I’m thankful – Today and everyday

Thanksgiving Day gives us a reason to say thanks. It’s a little sad we may need a reason, though I understand how it happens. We’re busy. Too much to do. Not enough time.

Because I sometimes have a tendency to get wrapped up in doing rather than being, I have made an effort of late to purposely, intentionally, mindfully be thankful.

Here are some of the things I’m thankful for today and always.

Our home and the trees that surround it.

Maple tree & House

 

 

 

 

 

My granddaughters who show me what true joy looks like.

Making Cookies

 

 

 

 

 

The prairie where I revel in the beauty of nature and practice mindful patience.

Prairie Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband who still surprises me.

David & Carol Anniversary

 

 

 

 

 

Women friends who encourage me to greater heights and prop me up when I’m low.

Friends in hats

 

 

 

 

 

Readers who buy my books and then take time to tell me they enjoyed reading the stories.

Go Away Home Review

 

 

My son who is a fine man and a great dad.

Lance & Girls

 

 

 

 

 

My feet are thankful they get to spend a week on a warm beach when Iowa is bitterly and prematurely cold this winter.

feet

 

 

 

 

 

My sister. My nieces and their families. My neighbors. People like you who read my blog. Good health. The good fortune to have been born in America.

I could go on. And on. And on. I’m one lucky person, and I know it. My cup overflows. So on Thanksgiving Day, I am purposefully, intentionally, mindfully thankful as I join with so many others in saying thanks. Thanks!

They did me wrong! Now what?

Someone cut you off in traffic. Cheated you out of a promotion. Stole your big idea. Or worse for us writers – Reviewed our books with words that stung. Then gave us a One Star rating. They’d have given us zero stars if Amazon let them. Ouch!

How do you respond when you’re wronged? Do you rage on Facebook and Twitter? Curse the wrong-doers? Nurture the hurt until it becomes a festering wound that damages everything you do for weeks and months after?

Or do you find a way to let it go?

Author Kathryn Craft shared great advice on Writers In The Storm for handling the inevitable negatives. I’m sharing her words that are written for authors but apply equally well to every person whose suffered injury at the hands of another. Plus there’s a great video. Don’t miss that.

Here’s the beginning of her post. Click to read more. It’s time well spent.

You Did Me Wrong—Right?

Kathryn Craft

Turning Whine into Gold

This month I’ve been seeing a lot on social media about the benefit of positivity. It is the simplest and most immediate cure for whining!

A positive attitude will keep you in problem-solving gear and
win you many champions in the publishing business.

In this great interview between Porter Anderson and my friend and NYT bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, Jonathan says, “more doors will open if you go into the business with happiness and joy and optimism.”

No truer words, my friends.

Negativity

As storytellers we get to play God. We can make good and bad things happen, and have it all come out the way we want it to in the end. But real life is less ordered. It requires us to deal with circumstances beyond our control. To surrender. Reframe. This skill set will help you leave despair behind and turn toward optimism and hope.

Dealing with it

Keep reading by clicking here.

How do you hold on to first-time awe?

My granddaughter started kindergarten this past week. When she told her dad about her first day in school, she could barely contain herself.

  • “Guess what? We played in the gym!”
  • “Guess what? We had music class!”
  • “Guess what? I met new friends!”
  • “Guess what? I ate my lunch there!”

She had a truly awesome, magical first day.

As I thought about the joy and awe with which my granddaughter launched into school, I realized how seldom I feel that sense of magical awe anymore. When you are five, most things in your life are glorious, untarnished firsts. When you are sixty-five, firsts – when I have them – occur in the midst of days crammed with responsibilities and in the context of a lifetime of experiences that tinge awe with reality.

I know I have so many reasons for joy and awe. Yet, often I rush past them, thinking instead and ahead to the next meeting, the calls waiting to be answered, the blogs to be written, the host of responsibilities that crowd every day. As a result, I look past the moments of joy and awe while they’re happening rather than reveling in the moments.

Part of the answer for me, I think, is to be conscious of the need to slow down, to live, to breathe, to take joy in each moment. Then I also need to spend more time celebrating those precious moments.

She lost her first tooth!

She lost her first tooth!

I can learn from my granddaughter. Before school started, she lost her first tooth. She was over the moon. She wanted every picture I took to show she’d lost that tooth. When she visited this weekend, she had a second tooth on the verge of coming out. She is just as excited. We took pictures of the loose tooth, and I know we’ll take more pictures when the tooth is gone.

The launch events last month for my novel Go Away Home were amazing, joyful experiences. I did have to run from event to event, but after the last event, my husband, son and I went out to celebrate. They were so happy for me – I was so happy for me. Celebrating at the moment expanded the joy – and kept me from rushing right into thinking about the next task on the ‘to do’ list.

Holding on to the joy and reveling in the joy, ensure special moments remain special. They allow me to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of those precious moments in my life.

My wish for my granddaughter is to be able to experience that first-day-of-school, first-lost-tooth, first-time awe many, many times in her life.

My wish for me is to remember that there is joy to be experienced if I slow down and absorb it.

 How about you? How do you keep a sense of joy and awe in your life?

Peppers – vegetable or fruit?

Vegetables or fruits?

Vegetables or fruits?

There are NO vegetables. Everything we call a vegetable is actually a fruit. So said the host of the TV show On The Spot this past weekend.

What? I’m a farm kid. I grew up around agriculture and spent most of my professional career in public relations working with clients who served the ag industry. I had never heard this before.

This was such a provocative statement, stated so definitively, that I had to do the research. First stop: Wikipedia. The answer was fascinating, taking into account botany, the culinary arts, and the law.

Botanically – (upon which On The Spot must have made its pronouncement) – the ovary of a flowering plant is the fruit. Since both fruits (peaches, plums, oranges) and vegetables (eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes) come from the flowering part of the plant, they are botanically speaking all really fruits. 

Culinary – In the grocery story and kitchen, fruits and vegetables are mutually exclusive. Fruits are the edible part of the plant with a sweet flavor. Vegetables are the edible part of a plant with a savory flavor.

Legally – When in doubt, the law may intervene as it did with the tomato in Nix v Hedden, a case argued before the Supreme Court in 1893. The outcome? The tomato is a vegetable. The case had such import because commodities are taxed as vegetables in particular jurisdictions and pocketbooks would hurt depending on where the tomato came down.

To be fair to the Supreme Court justices, while they declared the tomato a vegetable for tax purposes, they acknowledged it was botanically a fruit. How’s that for standing firmly on both sides of the debate?

My research didn’t stop with Wikipedia (a cautionary tale for all). The Mayo Clinic points out there really are vegetables – those foods that come from parts of the plant other than the flower, e.g. celery (stem), lettuce (leaves), and beets, carrots and potatoes (roots.)

All this may be a bit of a diversion, but we writers like to be precise in our use of language. And as one speaker arguing for a classical education opined, It’s important to know the rules before you break them.

Offering another, particularly timely, perspective on the topic, a Facebook post weighed in on the topic today: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

I know all this new-found knowledge/wisdom will come into play in my writing at some point. I can hardly wait.

What could you learn about leadership and teamwork from geese?

Out visitors were similar to this gaggle. http://10000birds.com/the-canada-goose.htm

Out visitors were similar to this gaggle. http://10000birds.com/the-canada-goose.htm

Unexpected visitors to our home last night brought the delights of nature and deeper lessons in leadership and teamwork.

As darkness fell, a gaggle of Canadian geese came walking up our drive. Four adults and six goslings who could not yet fly made up the troupe.

An adult led the way, followed by three young, another adult, and three more young. Two adults brought up the rear. They kept a straight line. No one broke rank.

We expect the geese were headed for the pond on the next property, but they were stymied by the woven wire fence that marks the border between our land and the horse pasture behind us.

The leader led his cadre up to the fence, surveyed the situation, and turned right. They followed the fence only to be stopped by the north fence. They returned and followed the fence in the other direction. Dogs in the next yard caused them to reconsider. They tried the north route again, as though the leader thought perhaps they missed something on the first try.

Soon they were back. They stood by the fence for a few moments. The adults could easily have flown over the fence, but their young could not. And they would not leave them.

Watching these geese, I could not help but think of the lessons in leadership and teamwork this little group demonstrated.

Leaders:

  • Decide a course and lead your team with confidence
  • Adapt the plan if you run into obstacles
  • Watch out for the team and take into account their capabilities
  • Don’t be afraid to chose another course of action if the first doesn’t work out

Team members:

  • Have confidence in your leader
  • Know your own limits
  • Don’t go wandering off

Finally, everyone stay calm.

Unable to find a path to the pond on our property, the leader turned and led the group back down our driveway the way they’d come. I had no doubt the leader would eventually find a way to the pond. If it took all night.

Thelma & Louise hit the road again

Can't pass up a big chair

Can’t pass up a big chair

You know you’re in the south when …

  • The people at the next table are drinking Coca Cola for breakfast
  • Dairy Queen serves the best biscuits and gravy for breakfast
  • Corn pudding is a side dish option for lunch
Berea, Kentucky combines art and history.

Berea, Kentucky combines art and history.

My friend Sue and I have hit the road – just like and nothing like – Thelma & Louise. We plan to have some fun, enjoy the sights of the southeastern states, see some friends, and relax on the North Carolina beach. So far we’ve traversed six states: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

A great night for a boat ride.

A great night for a boat ride.

We’ve met interesting people – the woman at breakfast for instance – who told us more than we wanted to know about southern food and who used way more words than anyone should that early in the morning.

Captain Paul pilots us out of Honahlee

Captain Paul pilots us out of Honahlee

We’ve explored art and history in Kentucky.

We’ve reprised the big chair theme from a trip to California.

We’ve enjoyed an evening of boating with friends Nan and Paul and spectacular food at the Lakeside Tavern.

Today we’ll tour in the Smoky Mountain National Park.

Honky-tonks, hitchhikers, and hell-raising are not on our list.

What’s the best use of time to think?

Thoughts while, and about, falling down.

fallingSeveral years ago, I tripped on an uneven sidewalk and fell, landing more embarrassed than scathed. As I lay on the ground assessing myself for damage, I realized that I’d had several remarkably clear thoughts between tripping and landing.

At the time, I thought, How interesting. There’s actually time to think even in such a short time.

I tucked the realization away – something to use someday in my writing. I wonder if I might have put that realization to better use than just writing.

When I fell on the ice last month, once again thoughts raced through my mind. Realization that my foot had landed in a slippery spot and I was going down. Noting the hill I would land on. Thinking I was careless to have let that happen. Again, several clear thoughts during an event that lasted not much more than a second.

The result was worse this time. I wound up in the emergency room with a broken wrist.

When I posted on Facebook about my fall, someone suggested next time I should remember to “tuck and roll.” What a joke, others laughed. It happens so fast, how could you ever do anything but act out of reflex? But I wonder.

My aunt who’d broken her ankle as a teenager, suffered from ever more frequent falls as she aged.  Once as she crossed a street, she fell. Later she told me that her thought as the ground raced up at her was, “Well, I’ve done it now!”  Indeed she had. She broke her wrist.

Another time, my aunt tripped in her living room and had the presence of mind to fling herself forward so that she landed on the couch. That gave us all a good laugh. Particularly since she managed not to hurt herself.

Because my mother lived alone in her home, I convinced her to get a Life Line button. One day she fell. It took considerable time and effort before she was able to drag herself to the basement stairs, get her feet under her and get up. I asked why she didn’t just press the button hanging on a cord around her neck so someone could come and help her. She looked momentarily puzzled and then responded, “I guess you’d have to remember you even had the button to do that.”

Doing things automatically is often a matter of practicing enough. Since my fall, I’ve worked to implant the idea of “tuck and roll” in my brain. To that end, I’ve been thinking about it, talking to others about it, writing about it. I hope never to fall again, but if I do, I hope “tuck and roll” is the first thought in my head.

What do you think, my friends? Have you had experiences with split second thoughts? Do you think I can be successful at retaining tuck and roll? Have you done something like this? Or should I just resign myself to using this learning in my writing?

Why we read

Inner discourse. Deeper lives. To stay connected.

ReaderA Writer of History shares the gist of an insightful article on why we (still) read. Thanks, Mary Tod.

Why we read

A few months ago, my mother clipped an article out of the paper for me with the compelling title Why we (still) read. The author was Robert Fulford, a long-time and well known Canadian journalist.

Fullford discusses the benefits of reading and the way “books work on us”. Several bits stood out for me. The first is a quote taken from Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy:

 

…in reading books we construct our unique selves: “There is no self without reading.” Without the inner discourse that reading makes possible, self hardly exists.”

Read on for more compelling thoughts …

Walking through Iowa; reading through Europe

Goals to keep mind and body fresh.

Shoes & BookI’ve set two goals for myself this winter: one walking and one reading. In just the first few weeks of the year, I’ve found some interesting links to these goals, beyond the fact that I do them at the same time.

  • My walking goal is to traverse the diagonal distance of Iowa, from the southwest corner to the northeast. A map taped to the wall offers a ready reference for logging my miles and noting the towns I figuratively pass through as I take to the treadmill.
  • My reading goal, as I shared in another post, is to read 10 works of historical fiction in 2014 as part of the historical fiction challenge. That’s in addition to all the other books I know will pass through my hands this year.

I began my trek in Hamburg, the southwestern most town in Iowa. According to the 2010 census, Hamburg’s population was 1,187. This little town was nearly wiped off the map in 2011 when the Missouri River breached the levee protecting the area. Despite great adversity, the people and their town survived.

It’s interesting (to me at least) that Hamburg is named for Hamburg, Germany, since the book I was reading at this point was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Set in Germany, The Book Thief tells the story of a nine-year-old girl who lives near Berlin during WWII. This child and her foster parents face great adversity as they risk their lives to befriend a Jew they hide in their basement. The book explores the ability of books to feed the soul.

Since leaving Hamburg (Iowa), I’ve traversed almost 50 miles, passing through towns I’ve never heard of – Essex – and some I have heard of but never visited – Shenandoah and Red Oak.

Coincidentally, I “walked” through Shenandoah at the time Phil Everly passed away. Phil and his brother, Don, grew up in Shenandoah from early childhood through early high school. They sang with their father on local radio station KMA before going on to achieve fame as The Everly Brothers.

Walking at 3.8 miles/hour, I can read comfortably and have completed several books, including:

  • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. My choice for our book club to read this month, this novel took me to the coast of England to search for fossils with two nineteenth century women whose discoveries upset the scientific and religious worlds of the day. I found this book noteworthy because the author had a unique way to describe characters. One “leads with her eyes,” another “leads with her hands,” another “leads with her chin.”  As soon as I read this descriptor, I realized I know people like this. I admire authors who trigger that spark of recognition in readers in an unusual way.
  • The Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. This book about a lesser known part of American history, when some 250,000 children were taken by train from east coast cities to find homes in rural areas, drew me in because I have a thread on the Orphan Trains in my upcoming novel, Go Away Home. This is the one book I’ve read so far this year set in the United States.
  • Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth. The sequel to the book that is the basis for the the PBS series, this book caused me to consider the scope of creative non-fiction.  Worth was a nurse midwife in London after WWII.  Her life experience and writing are fully engaging. I do wonder, though, if it is appropriate to categorize much of this second book as memoir since several of the stories were not about things that happened to Worth or that she saw personally. Terrific stories, though, and a powerful look at a difficult time in English history.

As I continue to walk, I’ve crossed the Channel to France where I’m on a gastronomical journey with Julia Child in her memoir, My Life in France. She is making me very hungry. 

Sharing goals helps ensure I stick to them. So, I’ll share updates of my reading and walking musings from time to time. If you’d like to chime in on books you’re reading or places you’re traveling or goals you’ve set for the year, I’d love to hear from you.

We will not grow old together

Finding perspective and gratitude after suicide.

When I thought about my senior years, I imagined spending a good deal of time with my older sister, Jane. Though she lived in Pennsylvania and I in Iowa, we found increasing time together as we grew into our retirement years.

We both enjoyed gardening, reading, travel. She doted on her grandchildren and I looked forward to grandchildren of my own. I felt relaxed and pampered in her home, which she opened as a bed and breakfast so that she could share her gifts of hospitality and cooking. She enjoyed coming to Iowa to re-connect with her rural roots.

Sisters enjoying moments together

Sisters enjoying moments together

My image of those golden years shattered when Jane died by suicide in 2008. Until then, my personal experiences with death included my parents and grandparents. Those deaths were difficult to absorb but they happened in the natural order of things. Jane’s did not.

Grieving Jane’s death unbalanced me in a way I often described as feeling as though the universe was out of kilter. This lack of balance manifested itself in car accidents. I had at least 13 accidents, ranging from scrapes to collisions, in three years. Thankfully, no one was killed.

It was three years before a friend who’d also lost her sister to suicide took me to the Survivors of Suicide annual conference in 2011. What a blessing it was to learn about the healing power of ceremony in addressing grief and to do so in the company of others who shared this unique kind of loss. After that conference, I performed a “letting go” ceremony for Jane that helped me tremendously.

I thought that ceremony made me okay, and in many ways it did. But when a friend lost her son to suicide earlier this year and we attended the Survivors of Suicide conference this past weekend, I realized my grief journey is ongoing.

During a breakout session when I joined others who lost siblings to suicide, the moderator asked each of us to answer this question: “What do you think your sibling would wish for you now?”

My first thought was flippant — Jane would want me not to cry so much! Upon reflection, though, I believe Jane would urge me to do what makes me happy and not to wait. She’d urge me to appreciate, be thankful for, and find joy in each moment, since each moment is precious and we don’t know how many moments we will have.

It’s no accident, I’m sure, that the Survivors of Suicide conferences are held worldwide on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In the face of horrible loss, we may need help remembering to be thankful. We may need help putting the loss in perspective.

As a result of the conference, I’m consciously adjusting my focus from what I don’t have and won’t have since Jane died, to what I can be thankful for because of Jane’s life. I’m focusing on the positives of the past and the future.

No, Jane and I won’t grow old together, but I am lucky to have enjoyed life with her for 60 years. Jane modeled love and compassion and hospitality for me every day. She graciously shared gentle wisdom learned in her years as a nurse. She left a legacy of love in her daughters and grandchildren.

I honor her and help myself heal by recognizing this and sharing the beauty of her life with others.

** If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, find help at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention