Resolutions 2014

“Believe you can and you’re half way there.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

New Year’s Day rings in with lists of resolutions. It’s a natural time to reflect on last year’s mis-steps and the new year’s missions. “This year,” the lists read, “I resolve to eat less, to exercise more, to stop procrastinating, to quit smoking, to spend less money and to save more.” happy_new_year_fireworks_and_special_effects_highdefinition_picture_170356Resolutions are posted in magazines and newspapers, on refrigerators, on Facebook and Twitter. Now there are even Smartphone Apps to keep us focused on these promises. Time’s article “10 Apps to Help Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick” helps assure adherence to improvement.

Like some of my Facebook friends, though, I’m not sure I want to write a list this year. Yes, it can help focus resolves. Writing down a goal is a first step toward achieving it, right? But will I stay focused? Is putting it on paper or online enough? Author Sharon Sala writes, “If you want to do better…or you want a change in your life, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just do it!”  Solid advice from a practical woman.

Paris - Seine - Copy 1

Tom & I cruising the Seine

The world is a scary place. It’s made scarier by those things out of our control – accidents, disease, violence, death. New Year’s Resolutions may improve our day to day life but they can’t guard against life’s tragedies.  What can help us get through is another sort of resolve – a desire to adjust our attitude toward life.  Toss out the bad.  Resurrect the good.  Cherish each day — past and present.  “Just do it!”

About four years ago I received a diagnosis. Eating healthier to lose weight would help.  That wasn’t easy considering weight loss is probably the number one fail on each list of New Year’s resolutions. But I told myself repeatedly that, if I didn’t do it, I would grow sicker and die. I told myself so often that I came to believe it. So I lived my life eating healthy. I cut out junk and counted calories.  Amazingly I lost weight and became healthier. I’ve backslid some since then, but parts of that belief are still ingrained in my brain, still nudging me toward health. I must listen. I have my sons, my family, and my goals to live for. (One is to publish the great American novel. Gotta do that before I leave this earth. 🙂 )

Two years ago my soul mate and sons’ father unexpectedly left us. His sudden passing devastated me and his family. Those who have endured such loss know more than anyone that no words can describe the pain, the paralyzing grief.  On the day of his funeral, a dear family member quietly told me that if ever I felt myself slipping into despair, imagine instead that I was the one in Heaven and he was still alive on Earth but now sinking into darkness. Would I want him to grieve in such a way? Or would I want him to learn to live without me? Would I want him happy? In the shock of my beloved’s death, I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. I did what must be done.  That led me through the first many months. Her compassionate words are leading me through the rest.  I would want him to be happy.

My new home in Wisconsin
(Thank you, Sue, for the winter photo)

It takes a change in attitude, learning to adjust and move forward. I believe that’s what is needed to see any sort of resolution succeed. For me, that means adjusting my mindset to help achieve my goals. At midnight, as I heard a few fireworks exploding in the distance to celebrate the birth of 2014, the word brave came to me on a whisper, Tom’s voice.  I need to be brave this year and in the years to come.

There’s so much ahead.  I’ll retire this year and say goodbye to my job of twenty years. I’ll move 800 miles back to my hometown, to my new home. There’s so much to do. I’m eager for my move, but it’s also a huge change and a bit frightening. It will take bravery to make it all happen.  A list will help but this year I must focus on attitude and my new found word to guide me. In 2014 and in the years to come, I must be brave.

What word will help you achieve your New Year’s goals?  ♥

Moving Forward

Last week I traveled to Wisconsin to visit my siblings and to attend WisRWA’s 2013 Write Touch Conference.  I also, unexpectedly, bought a house.  

It’s been a long eighteen months since my loss.  During that time, I’ve kept busy with my day job and various house projects.  But despite living in the East for close to 25 years, at heart I’m still a Midwesterner; most of my family still lives there. Last year I decided that when I retired in 2014, I would move closer to home. A logical decision, one that felt right in spite of the added drama so many nearby kinfolk might bring into my life. 

On the Internet I began to follow the southern Wisconsin housing market.  On trips, I began dragging siblings with me to see houses.  Most recently, I made offers on two separate houses, both non-productive.  On this particular trip, however, nothing seemed to fit.  Last  Wednesday, after two afternoons of seeing an assortment of selected listings, I parted with my realtor and headed back to my brother’s.  “We’ll find something next visit,” I thought.  “There’s time.”

Lovely Cape Cod

Minutes later, my realtor called about a new listing she’d just seen on their in-house board. 

When I drove up the quiet, tree-lined street to meet her in front of the brick Cape Cod, its traditional charm greeted me.  Mid-tour through the empty house, I called my local sibs, pleading with them to meet me at the house despite the busy dinner hour.   During their tour, each of them privately pulled me aside.  Although they may rarely agree on much, each said the same thing.  “If you don’t buy it, I will.” 

Bright Sun Room

Bright Sun Room

An hour later, back in the realty office over take-out pizza and store-bought peanut butter cookies, my realtor guided me through my offer to buy.  My husband and I, during our 38 years together, bought four houses.  And, as mentioned above, over the past few months I’d written up two other offers.  This still felt strange, alone.  At the form’s bottom, there are two spaces for the buyer to sign – generally husband and wife.  I signed the top line, noting the other line with a degree of sadness.  Thoughts raced through my mind.  It’s serious business, committing to buy a house, alone.  It’s serious business, committing oneself to an 850-mile move into retirement, alone.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Of course, I’m not alone. Everywhere loved ones reach out in support.  My friends.  My realtor.  My family.  My sons.  And always, my husband.  During the very long 22-hour wait for the seller to respond to my offer, I felt his warm presence.  I believe he would love this house.  (Well, maybe not some of the wallpaper, but that can be replaced.)

Right now I’m in mid-process. Inspections completed with closing scheduled for summer. With luck, all will move smoothly. It’s a friendly house with good bones. With some repairs and a few minor changes to make it my own, it will comfortably meet my needs when I retire and in years to come.  It’s a bright, airy house that, next year, I’ll make into my home.  

I’m moving forward.

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

By the way, the WisRWA Write Touch Conference was great.  I heard dynamic speakers, enjoyed wonderful visits with old friends, and savored the joy of forming new friendships.  At times, though, I had a tough time focusing on conference business.  In my mind I kept walking through the rooms of my new house. I stripped wallpaper, arranged furniture, entertained family and friends, read, and created new stories in that glorious sun room.  I’m glad my roommate and other writer friends were understanding, and that our Keynote Speaker, Michael Hauge, offered a DVD.  

On birds

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them? ~ Rose Kennedy

ravenI never thought of myself as a bird lover.   My feelings toward the creatures may have started in adolescence when I first read Poe’s “The Raven” then saw the dark movie with Peter Lorre.   Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”    Then came Hitchcock’s “The Birds” where flocks invaded a peaceful California town bringing with them chaos and terror.  For a short while after that I was repulsed by their reptilian quality.   But slowly some birds flew into my life bringing with them a fascination, and more.

As I matured, I remember watching a lone hawk soar against a blue sky; my heart beat faster.  I became awed with the sweeping silver V of snow geese overhead.   After a dreary winter, the brilliant red of a cardinal in the oak tree, or a bright blue jay in the maple, brought wonder to my soul.  I began to smile whenever I heard the first robin’s song in spring.  Who could not?

Mourning Dove eggs

Mourning Dove eggs

Many years ago our young family moved from Wisconsin to southern Indiana.   The winters there were warmer than our former northern home. One year I left a large hanging geranium on our side porch for the winter.  Careless me; eventually a year-end  cold spell hit and the plant died. In the early spring I found that a pair of grey mourning doves had nested in the planter.  I suppose the dead plant made a ready-made nest for the doves.  Each dawn when I went outside for the newspaper, I was greeted by intriguing coos.  As the young chicks grew and finally flew away, our whole family was awed.  Of course the next winter, I purposely left the hanging planter on the porch.  We all smiled when the gentle pair returned to hatch another brood.

yellow finch

Yellow Bird

Years later a smaller bird came to visit our new home on the East coast.  Our master bedroom sported a large arched window.  The east-facing window didn’t allow for sleeping in.  But for a while, it wasn’t the sun that roused us on weekends.  One Saturday spring morning Tom and I woke to an odd sound. We were puzzled until we saw a yellow finch, tapping against the arched window.  He came to visit regularly that spring, and the next as well.  Tom named him “Yellow Bird” and for a few years he became a part of our lives.   Yellow Bird, our happy little alarm clock.

My new parrot lamp

My new parrot lamp

Parrots, to me, are loud creatures, like an obnoxious drunken step-uncle in the bird family. I never thought a parrot might come into my life.  Then several years ago, my youngest son created a funny series of animated videos about a pirate, Amish J. Pirate.  And, as we all know, pirates have parrots.  Arrghhh!  Overnight, it seemed, I found myself strangely drawn to parrots.

Recently I’ve been searching for a new lamp.  I didn’t want a novelty lamp, just the right-size traditional table lamp to put in the front window in my living room.  For weeks I browsed in stores, in catalogs, and online.  And I kept returning to one particular lamp described as a ginger jar ceramic hand-painted parrot lamp offered by Lamps Plus.  No matter how many others I looked at, this one called to me.   So I ordered a parrot lamp, the last in stock.  A parrot lamp.  So much for traditional.  Arrrghhh!

My new lamp arrived today.  Looking at it warms me.  It makes me grin;  I sense Tom’s smile, too.  I guess there’s something to be said for parrots.

cartoon-parrot-007

The Times They Are A Changin’

       “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

On Saturday, October 29th, those of us living on the U.S. East Coast were pummeled with a pre-Halloween storm. “A fifty-year storm,” one weatherman called it. By early evening over a foot of snow had fallen. Our trees, still holding tight to their brilliant autumn leaves, were quickly blanketed with wet, heavy snow. Branches began to droop dangerously low.

We lost our power around 1:30 PM. I was at my desk writing on my computer when the lights flickered on…off…on…off, in rapid bursts, as if struggling to hang on. Finally the power failed altogether. Lamps, computers, and all things electrical went out.

The electric igniter on our gas range didn’t work, but that’s what kitchen matches are for. For a late lunch, I heated chicken rice soup on the stove top instead of the microwave. And instead of completing another chapter on my computer then watching Bride of Frankenstein on the television as planned (it is almost Halloween), my husband and I spent a few hours engaged in deliciously quiet conversation.

After a time, a dear friend called from Wisconsin and we caught up on her life, and mine. Then my brother and sister-in-law called from their nightmarish vacation in Hawaii. (Yeah, nightmare…in Hawaii, but that’s another story.) More talk. I’m glad we still have a non-electrical land line. My cell phone battery never would have lasted.

Our power was restored before nightfall. We were lucky. As I write this, many in the East are still without electricity as diligent linemen work non-stop.

Youngest son called home around 11:30 PM. His bus from New York City had been cancelled so he took a different line but it didn’t go to where he’d left his car. So, around 1:00 AM middle son and I drove to a Park and Ride to bring him home for an unexpected overnight visit. On the drive there we skirted four fallen trees.  This morning revealed cracked branches in our own backyard.

Such were yesterday’s small adventures, courtesy of the changing weather patterns. But global warming and changing climate, if that’s what it was, isn’t the only change going on in the world. Change is constant, and it is everywhere.

“The only thing constant in life is change,” wrote French author François de la Rouchefoucauld in the 17th century. Given the times he lived in, the man well knew what he was writing about. So, too, did Bob Dylan. His classic 1964 song, “The Times They Are A Changin‘” became an anthem during the Viet Nam peace protests of the 1960’s as well as the Civil Rights movement. It maintains its popularity.

This morning I watched a news story on CBS Sunday Morning about Asian carp that have escaped from Arkansas to the Illinois River, and the havoc these vicious leaping fish are wreaking. The story told of other invaders to the U.S., the Kudzu vine creeping across southern states, the Burmese python slithering through Florida, and others. A sign of our changing world as species once unknown in this country flourish in a landscape with no natural enemies.

Gunpowder caused massive change in the Middle Ages. The invention of steam engines heralded the Industrial Revolution. In today’s world, along with weather and environmental changes, the primary element of change is technology and its many ramifications.

Earlier technology – telephones, radio, and television gave way to computers, microwaves, cell phones, i-pads, e-readers. The list grows daily. Keeping up with hardware, software, and applications is not always easy, especially for this aging baby-boomer.

As writers, the change in most minds is the transition from traditional publishing to e-publishing. The issue is more complicated than it might seem to those unfamiliar with the topic. What is happening is creating a far greater change than if inventors had simply built a better printing press for established, traditional publishing companies.

E-readers and companies like Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble, have given writers (not just publishers) the ability to publish electronically and distribute that work easily, efficiently, and cheaply – all without the need for traditional agents or publishing houses. For the first time in history, writers have become empowered, in charge of their own careers.

Will a lot of rubbish be published? I imagine so, but doesn’t that already happen in print publishing? How often have you paid good money for a print book by an author everyone raves about, only to toss it aside? There will be bad writing in e-publishing, but I believe good writers will also emerge, outshining the bad. Professional writers will create stories that today’s editors and agents, many barely out of college, now reject simply because “it won’t sell” or “it doesn’t rock my boat.”

Writers will win, and so will readers as stories of all lengths, all genres, all topics, become available. And traditional publishing?   Change, my friends, is constant.  Plunge in, move with it, and join the dance.  ♥

Domino Theory Revisited

“Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount.  And the tigers are getting hungry.” – Winston Churchill

The news was grim from Syria this week.  Dozens were killed, including two children, during security force clashes with protesters.  “We do not want your bread,” the people chanted in their marches. “We want dignity.”

Daily, the news continues from throughout the Middle East.  The reports, the photos, and videos are all similar in their horrible splendor.

In Egypt this week, after last month’s topple of 30-year President Mubarik, the police burned the Egyptian Interior Ministry building, a long-hated symbol of repression.  In Jordan, hundreds of Jordanians set up protest camps demanding broader freedoms and the ouster of the Prime Minister. In Yemen, white-collar professionals and students alike demanded the ouster of their President.  In Libya, multi-national government forces are are stepping in to protect the Libyan rebels from attacks by their own government’s troops.

Domino Theory updated

Throughout the Mideast protests and revolutions continue as more people in more countries step forth.  Spurred on by the internet, and by long-lived oppression, everyday folk are raising their fists and voices in defiance.  “We want dignity.”

In the mid-20th century, the United States government spoke often of the Domino Theory. This was the era of Communism and the Cold War. On news shows, in books, magazines, and news articles, reporters, writers, and talking heads speculated.  If one country fell to Communism, the next country would fall, then the next, and the next.  This Domino Theory was used to justify the war in South Vietnam and America’s intervention in other governments.  North Vietnam was a Communist country.  We could not allow South Vietnam to follow.

This year, the news from the Middle East has been volatile.  Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, Morocco, Libya, Kuwait, Syria . . . the dictators, like dominoes, are falling.  But they are not falling to Communism.  They are falling instead to the innate desire for free speech, and the freedom to live a more meaningful life.  It is a reverse sort of Domino Theory.

I write historical romance. I believe in the importance of studying history, and of happily-ever-after endings.  May the people who live in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean experience such an ending.  By raising their arms in protest they have already found dignity.  May they find freedom as well.

My Darlin’ Clementine

I never saw myself as heavy, but I was.  Birthing three babies and cooking & baking for my growing family, sampling as I cooked, put on pounds.  End-of-day munchies and after-dinner snacks invited small fat cells to grow bigger.  But as I aged, even though I shopped for clothes in the Woman’s Department, no longer in Misses, I never viewed myself as overweight, or as…obese.  (What a nasty word!)  Maybe it was ego, or arrogance, but I did nothing about my weight gain, except shop for more clothes to disguise my bulges. (Another nasty word).

Humans weren’t meant to be sedentary slugs.  We were meant to be active, to use food as nutritional fuel, not to store it as excess fat.  When we carry too many bloated fat cells, the body (the mind also I think) ultimately revolts.  Finally, my body grew too tired, too sick, to keep on as it was.  That led me to my first real diet since age 21.

Diet is another nasty word.   So is the term fad diets.  They just don’t make sense.  Too many folks lose pounds then gain them back when they return to real life.  Yo-yo dieters.  Keeping weight off calls for a permanent lifestyle change, one I knew I must make.  I discovered the key in one word – moderation.

I started my change in deep winter, when I most longed to settle indoors, gorging on rich, homemade beef stew, well-buttered dinner rolls, and home-baked chocolate chip cookies followed by a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.  I think it might have been easier to start in the spring, when fresh air and sunshine cries out for activity.

Like others before me, I made a spreadsheet.  On it, I charted everything I ate, every last morsel, and included its calorie count and nutritional value.  1,200 to 1,500 calories a day.  I wrote it all down.  It often took me longer to chart, often looking up nutritional data, than it did to eat.

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  I logged in my food intake for just about three weeks.  A real chore but by then I’d gained a handle on what I could and could not eat in a day.  Although I now no longer chart my calories, I seem to know how much, and what, I can safely eat.

Fruit is my salvation.  I miss homemade chocolate chip cookies until I bite into a juicy sweet, 35-calorie, Clementine orange.

So far I’ve lost over 30 pounds.  Slow and steady.  More to go, lots more, but I don’t think about that.  This is how I must live.  No other options.  Someone once said Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels!”.  While I’m not yet thin, doubtful I’ll ever be really thin, each day I’m happy to simply FEEL better.  Shopping is more fun, too.   So many more options in the Misses Department!

I hope you will share some thoughts and experiences with your own lifestyle changes.

Spring 2010

It was a long winter. Outside, heavy snows blanketed trees and bushes as blizzard followed blizzard. Schools and highways closed with only emergency vehicles allowed.

Inside, on the worst of the days, our family huddled together. While the winds whipped the willows, within our kitchen’s warmth we sipped hot tea and savored bowls of chili.  Grateful to be safe from the treacherous roads we chatted, cherishing our time together.

Snow days can make for good memories. For those who can stay inside, they are a true gift.

I didn’t accomplish much this winter. I haven’t for a long while. It’s been months since I’ve blogged. Months since I have read.  Or written.  Months since I’ve done much of anything except life’s bare essentials – my job, laundry, minimal housework (not that housework has ever been a priority 😉 ). For a long time, I’ve felt tired. Fatigued. Nothing concrete enough to push me to seek medical help, just tired.

I’ve only had one major illness in my life. I’m not prone to seek medical advice for myself. But late this winter a lingering infection sent me to the doctor. I’m glad I went. After a series of blood tests, they found the underlying cause of my fatigue.

I believe that a diagnosis, whatever it might be, changes a person. One starts down a different path.

For me…my values have re-awakened.  Nutrition habits have changed. I’m on meds.  Temporarily at least, the doctor’s office is now on my speed dial. I will become healthy again.

I am a winter child. My whole life I have been happiest in winter.  This year, as the snow melted and lilac leaf buds burst forth from seemingly dead twigs, I’ve come to see the relationship between winter and spring in a new light.   A new road opens ahead.

It has been a long winter for us all, but spring has come.