My Word of the Year for 2020

Do you start your new year off with a word you hope and plan will define that new year?
I’ve been doing that for a few years now, a tradition that started with my brother who was doing it with someone else on a blog. I really don’t think about the word that much during the year, to be honest, but sometimes I will remind myself of the word I chose (or feel was given to me) and redirect my attitude. It’s also interesting to look back at the end of a year and see how the world aligned with what happened that year.

DSC_3259-2_1

Last year my word was “contentment.”It took me several months into 2019 to reach the point of contentment in some situations in my life, however. I was not content with the loss of (or changes in) friendships at all last year, or with our traditionally difficult financial situation. But, over time, toward the end of the year, I started to settle in with the idea that friendships I had once thought would be around for a long time to come had faded and that we may never be rich, but somehow we seem to pull through and pay all our bills, even if it requires some sacrifices.

A couple of years ago I chose the words “peace” and “simplicity.” Everything in my world was not peaceful or simple during that year but there were periods of peace and simplicity at least. Decisions were also made with those words at the forefront of my mind, as much as possible anyhow. To keep with the sentiment behind the words I also cut out some people and aspects of my life that created little more than stress.

Another year I chose the word “restoration” because a lot in my life needed to be restored that year. The year I chose reconciliation we seemed to be reconciled with family but by the end of the year that had crumbled and they returned to only contacting us when they wanted something (usually transportation somewhere).

 

This year I am choosing the word “renew” because my life needs new energy – big time and in many areas, including my relationship with God, my relationship with family, my role a teacher for my kids, my health, my diet, my career (such that it is..or whatever it is), and my spiritual well being. That is a long list, but, really, my entire life needs an overhaul. My children’s lives also need renewal and one of the biggest areas where they need renewal are in their friendships. My daughter, 5, needs friends, period, and my son, 13, needs much better friends than he has now.

DSC_5449

I am using the definition of renewal that is “the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.” Not the definition of starting something back up again – unless I apply that definition to my life in general. I am broken. Physically for sure and in some ways emotionally and spiritually. I need to hit the refresh button in my life and revitalize my diet, my exercise, my mind, my spirit.

I am tired.

Every day.

I am physically tired but somedays I’m not sure if I am physically tired because I am emotionally and spiritually tired or if I’m physically tired because of something going on with my health. I have hypothyroidism, so that does make me tired. I seem to be in the midst of perimenopause, so that makes me tired. I may, or may not, have an autoimmune disease, so that makes me tired.  My vitamin d is low (which may be related to one of the possible health issues I have) so that makes me tired too.

But I think somedays I am tired because I think too much and my mental exhaustion translates into physical exhaustion. I watch too many sermons, trying to incorporate it all into my life in one fell swoop, instead of just watching one and meditating on that one sermon all week. I follow too many social media sites that offer encouragement, which I know sounds silly. How can you receive too much encouragement? But, when you try to apply it all at once like I do points from the sermon, it can become too much.

In other words, sometimes there are too many voices in my head and I need to silence them so I can hear God’s.

“Just…ssshhh. Let me think. Let me hear.” That’s what I want to say to all the voices.

“Let me try to figure this out before ya’ll start yelling at me about how to get my health back on track; how to get closer to God; how to improve my spiritual walk; what I should eat to feel better; who I should watch for spiritual guidance; what I should/shouldn’t be saying to/doing with my children.”

I just can’t listen to it all anymore.

I need renewal and I need it with a little less noise.

That’s why five days ago I started a complete social media fast that I hope will force me to focus on the areas of my life I need to work on. Health is certainly at the top of that list because, as I mentioned above, I am tired. My muscles hurt. I am winded from climbing the stairs most days. And, yes, I am grossly over the weight I should be for my short stature.

I do not eat fast food. I do not eat bread. I do eat some sugar. I do not eat regularly or include enough protein with each meal. And I do not exercise because – did I not mention this yet? – I am TIRED!

However, I do know that exercise can help with that as well, so I hope to incorporate at least some walking this year and go from there. To be honest, though, I’m so tired today (a few days before that lovely Aunt Flo comes) that even writing “I plan to walk more this year” makes me feel like a blooming hypocrite. I don’t know if I really do “plan” to walk more, but I “want” to walk more. How about that?

DSC_2118

Other words I could adopt this year: reinvigorate and refresh. I need to be reinvigorated and I need to hit a refresh button.  Part of that refresh we hope will come by selling this house and moving to a new one. Leaving this house won’t leave behind the hurts we’ve experienced while living in this town. It won’t change that family on my husband’s side have barely spoken to us in years and somehow blame us even though we tried to reconnect but were always told “We’re too busy for you.” Moving will not change many things, but we see it as a type of restart – a chance to make some changes for the better.

That restart started for us in April of this year when my husband started a new job, 40  minutes from where we live now, and opened up a door to an entirely new experience for him. The rest of the family is ready for some changes and new experiences too so right now we are praying we can sell this house, buy the one we already have an offer on and “get out of dodge”, so to speak.

So how about you? Do you choose a word of the year? A word to help guide you throughout the year, not pressure you like a resolution? A word to grow with you as you step through each day? Let me know in the comments.

If you are interested in choosing a word and would like some guidance on how to do it (even if it just for yourself and not to announce to your readers or publically) check out The Dolly Mama’s post, How To Choose Your Word of the Year (helpful reminders and simple steps)…Find Out Mine

DSC_3697_1

 

Why I can’t seem to get myself back on Instagram

I was off Instagram for almost a month and I don’t feel really interested in going back to it. I did log back on this week and as usual my visual brain was completely overloaded and I started stressing over politics (because while people used to just post photos, now they think they have to be social justice warriors at all times), stressing over the sad stories of people dying, and feeling completely inadequate as a mother because I don’t take my children on fancy European vacations. I did contemplate faking a European vacation and posting about that but since I’m pretty sick and tired of the “fakeness” of social media, I decided against that.

DSC_0653

To me, Instagram has become a place for voyeurism and a chance to brag about trips or wealth in an attempt to be validated by a bunch of strangers.

I used it to share my photography simply because I enjoyed connecting with other photographers but there was a time I got caught up in the validation cycle too. I would look at the numbers of likes and comment on posts, hoping others would comment or follow back. This was very short-lived, however, because the idea of networking with a bunch of strangers for attention made me sick to my stomach. And the idea that having a bunch of likes and followers would translate to paying photography customers was looking more and more ridiculous, probably because the photography business was an obvious failure for me.

Now that I could care less about being validated by a bunch of strangers, I hesitate every time I start to post a photo. I mean – who cares if my kid jumped off a ladder at the pool or played with the dog in the yard? Then again, I guess photos like that can be a distraction from the more self-serving ones and from all the political ridiculousness we see on social media anymore. Posting artistic photos over bragging ones is more my goal since I don’t have fancy trips to photograph or a fancy yacht to relax on.

DSC_0161-2

I think those of us who don’t get the chance to go on all those fancy trips should remember that the people behind the photos may not have the perfect, awe-inspiring lives we think they do. Their feed may look pristine and exotic but behind the scenes they may be dealing with trials we can’t see. The photos from Honolulu might be beautiful but they may be hiding a broken marriage, abuse or addiction.

And the woman who is on her tenth trip in the year to somewhere exotic may post all those photos because every day she’s pushing down the gnawing fear that she’s going to end up alone. Those trips may be a way to cover up a fracture in her family. Perhaps the woman laying on the beach in a bikini on her social media faced a situation in her life that turned her world upside down so now she’s decided life’s too short not to experience everything she can in her remaining years. Maybe she’s just spent her entire savings on that trip simply to forget about the sadness at home.

In other words, while we (I) shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we (I) also shouldn’t judge the person behind the Instagram feed by the photos they share.

But back to my Instagram (Me! Me! Me! . . . Just kidding.) I’m not sure what I want to do with it anymore. Like I said, I like posting fun photos of the kids or artistic images I take, but really, I could care less if strangers online know about my personal life so I don’t know if I will be posting much more on Instagram. If I do, I don’t think I’ll be using hashtags to draw more attention to them. I’ll share them for any friends or family who follow me or for any online friends I’ve made.

How about you? Are you an Instagram user or follower? What’s your motivation for using it? For fun? Business? Simple connection? Or validation? None of those reasons are actually bad – they’re just real. Let me know in the comments.

(And yes, I’m sharing photos in this post. For validation? Actually, no. I added photos to this post because my posts have been really bland lately and need some sprucing up.)

DSC_0446

A story to tell Chapter 9

Have you been following along with Blanche’s story? Let me know in the comments! To catch up to the story find the links to the other chapters at the end of this one.

 


Chapter 9

The few weeks after Daddy caught me were what I would call overwhelmingly tense. He didn’t speak to me. He didn’t speak to Edith. He barely spoke to Mama.

He left for work early and came home late. Dinners were silent and then he went to his chair to read his paper. I went to my room to do my homework or disappear inside a book.

Edith was quiet as well. She barely looked up from her plate at dinner. I knew she was thinking a lot about what Daddy thought of her. I hadn’t seen her flirting with boys as much lately, even though they flirted with her.

I listened to Daddy at first. I didn’t see Hank and he didn’t try to see me. I went to school and came home, helped Mama with the chores, went to church and did my best to be the Blanche I’d been before Daddy had caught me. I even visited that Bible study Lillian had suggested I attend, and I tried my best to really listen to the stories the women shared.

“Ladies, did we all get a chance to read the chapter in Proverbs about a virtuous woman?” Fran Sampson asked opening her Bible.

All the women opened their Bibles and I opened mine. I read:

Proverbs 31:10-31 “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.  She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.  She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.”

I decided not to comment too much, unsure what it was all supposed to mean. It sounded like to be a real woman I needed to be perfect and make wool. I couldn’t even sow, let alone make wool. And what did it mean to “girdeth her loins?” What were loins? It all sounded fairly ridiculous to me.

The women around me, most of them much older, nodded and smiled in agreement. Apparently, it made sense to them, then why couldn’t I figure it out?

“What do we think about this verse?” Fran asked, looking around the room.

I looked around the room too, hoping someone would enlighten me.

“Well, of course, it is probably unrealistic to believe we can live up to all of this, but it’s a wonderful guideline,” April Spencer said encouragingly.

April always had a sweet smile, perfect white teeth, blond hair, milky-white skin. Her daddy had been a farmer and her husband was a farmer and she looked like she should be on an ad for dairy products.

“It’s more of a goal to strive toward, something to work toward, rather than a list of how we need to be, I believe,” Lillian said.

The women around the room nodded in agreement and I felt a little more relieved about the passage, even if I didn’t understand all the words.

I decided I would think about the beginning of the passage: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

I thought I could handle that much, at least, when I got married. I could “do no harm” and I could make sure a husband could always trust in me.

***

I was walking with a basket full of baked goods Mama had asked me to take to the neighbors the evening before the last day of school when Hank pulled up in his truck. I was about a half a mile from home, on the dirt road, and along the edge of the Worley’s hay field, the grass high.

“I’ve missed you,” he said as he drove along next to me.

“I can’t talk to you,” I said, keeping my eyes on my steps as I walked.

“Haven’t you missed me?” he asked.

I had, but I couldn’t tell him.

“Come on, Blanche. I haven’t seen you in weeks. Go for a drive with me.”

I kept walking, trying to ignore him.

“Your daddy won’t find out. We’ll drive down by the covered bridge.”

I shook my head.

I wanted to be the good girl again. It had been easier when I was the good girl. Daddy had loved me when I was the good girl.

“Not now, Hank.”

“Suit yourself, but I’m going to try again,” he said and sped up, driving past me, his truck disappearing down the dirt road in a cloud of dust.

He did try again, two weeks after school ended. I had taken a walk to try to decide if I should apply for a summer job at the library and to think about what I wanted to do after I graduated the next year.

This time when he pulled up, I looked up from the road and our eyes met. I felt a funny feeling in my stomach, a mix of fear and excitement.

He was as handsome as he’d ever been.

“Come on, Blanche,” he pleaded. “I have to see you. Just take a little drive with me. I miss our talks and want to see how you are..”

I hesitated. I thought about Bible study and how we’d talked about resisting temptation. I felt like God wasn’t helping very well with keeping temptation from me.

“I can’t talk long,” I said.

Hank’s grinned. “I’ll take any time with you I can get.”

When I climbed in the front seat Hank’s smile sent heat rushing through me. He leaned in and kissed me hard. I knew I shouldn’t lean into the kiss, but I did, reaching out and sinking my fingers into his soft, brown hair. It felt so good to hold him and to be held by him. My body reacted as he opened my mouth under his and clutched at my hair.

“Girl, I’ve missed that mouth,” he said breathlessly, kissing me again.

We spent an hour kissing and talking under the covered bridge, his hands gliding where they shouldn’t be, but me liking it and reveling in the feel of his mouth on my skin. I was starting to understand what Edith had meant that night when she said that one day I’d understand how nice it was to have a man who paid attention to me.

“We can’t ever be apart that long again,” he said, leaning back to look at me. “What have you been up to?”

He kissed my neck.

“Trying to decide what I want to do after high school,” I told him, closing my eyes.

“What do you mean what you want to do?”

His mouth moved to my earlobe.

“Like, what career will I have,” I said, distracted with his hand gliding up my leg. “Mama says maybe I will be a housewife like her, but I don’t know if that’s what I want to do. I want more – you know?”

“I do know, yes,” Hank said leaning back to look at me. “I want more too. I want to get out of this area. I want to be away from all the people who tell me who I should be and who I never will be.”

He sat up, laid his arm across his propped up knee.” Why don’t you come with me? If you’re going to be a housewife, you can be my housewife.”

I laughed a little as he grinned.

“You can cook me some good food and wash my clothes and I’ll make crazy love to you,” he said.

“Is that a proposal?” I asked with a roll of my eyes. “If it was, it wasn’t a very good one you know.”

Hank laughed.

“What if it was a proposal?” he asked, flipping a piece of my hair off my shoulder with his finger.

I shook my head and laughed.

“Hey, girl, I’m serious.”

I looked up at his face and I felt weak. His expression was serious, his eyes watching me intently.

“Oh, Hank – I’m too young to get married,” I said softly.

“You’re not too young. You heard what I told your daddy. A lot of girls your age are already having babies.”

Hank grinned.

“You wanna have babies with me some day?” he asked.

I swallowed hard. I’d never thought about having babies. I shook my head.

“Not really,” I said honestly. “Or at least not now.”

“If I ever have babies, I want it to be with you,” Hank said, lightly touching the buttons of my shirt then trailing his fingertips along my collarbones

I only knew a little about where babies came from, and I knew what Hank wanted to do might lead there. I wasn’t ready for babies. I didn’t even like holding someone else’s baby.

“I have to go,” I said abruptly and pushed his hands away.

“Come on, Blanche. Just a little longer,” he kissed my neck and slid his hand across my stomach under my shirt.

I pushed his hands away again and stood up abruptly.

“My parents are going to wonder where I am and I’m pretty sure my daddy was serious about that gun,” I said.

Looking down at him I felt a rush of warmth move from my chest into my cheeks. He was so handsome, and I still couldn’t figure out what he saw in me. I knew if he asked me to marry him again I would say yes, just so I could spend my life looking at him.

But I didn’t want him to ask me to marry him again. My head was spinning. I was as confused about my present as I was about what I wanted for my future.

I knew Hank didn’t want to, but he drove me back to the end of our road, kissing me hard before I jumped out of the truck, like he wanted me to know who I belonged to. I smoothed my hair down and pulled the bottom of my shirt over the top of my skirt as I walked back to the house, ready to be the good girl for Mama and Daddy again.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

 

The state of our world today

I was very anxious about several situations the other night, feeling restless and bitter about the actions of others, in my world, in the world in general. I knew I should be reading the Bible instead of scrolling through social media and seething so I left my phone behind and grabbed my Bible when I went into the backyard to watch the dog. Isaiah has been bookmarked since Easter when I was reading about the prophecy of Christ’s death and resurrection.

000009_DSC_0802-(1)

When I read Isaiah 65: 1-5, a few pages after that prophecy (Isaiah 53: 1-12), I felt like I was reading a message for today.

“I was sought by those who did not ask for Me;

I was found by those who did not seek Me.

I said, “Here I am, here I am,”

To a nation that was not called by My name.

I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people,

Who walk in a way that is not good,

According to their own thoughts;

A people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face;

Who sacrifice in gardens,

And burn incense on altars of brick;

Who sit among the graves,

And spend the night in the tombs;

Who eat swine’s flesh,

And the broth of abominable things is in their vessels;

Who say, ‘Keep to yourself,

Do not come near me,

For I am holier than you!”

These are smoke in My nostrils,

A fire that burns all day.­”

Isaiah 65: 1-5

Things aren’t great in our world right now. We have a lot of hatred, a lot of horrible things being said by people who are supposed to be leaders. We are at a crossroads in our nation and sometimes the choices we have to make are frightening, but none of this is new to God. There has always been upheaval in the world.

There have always been people who have denied him and even spit in His face, figuratively and literally. There is nothing new under the sun for God. He created this world, He gave humans free will, He knows our past and our future. He knows the time He will send his son to gather us home.

Sometimes it is hard for me to remember all this when babies are being torn from their mother’s wombs and people say they aren’t babies they are blobs.

It’s hard to remember when babies and adults are dying at the borders of nations, not only our own, looking for a better life, but politicians won’t agree on how to help them.

It’s hard to remember when so many children are lost and looking for their identities, impatient to grow up and state too soon who and what they are.

But even in those moments, God is here.

I don’t know why He doesn’t pluck us all out of this confusion and set us straight, stop all the sadness and horror from happening in the world; it’s something I argue with Him about often. What I do know is one day it will all make sense and one day those who deny Him won’t be able to anymore.

Let’s focus on living instead of dying

People are depressed. I mean it, people. People all around me are depressed.

I can’t turn around without someone standing there or writing somewhere that they are in mourning. The people who are having family members dying, or announcing cancer or abuse is all around me these days. I don’t get why it seems to be happening more and more but it’s probably because I’m getting older. Maybe I was in a fog as a kid and don’t remember all the death and tragedy as much?

I don’t know.

Or maybe people simply tend to share more sadness than happiness and that’s why we are all in the gutter of attitudes some days. We need to share sadness and sadness will happen, it can’t be helped, so don’t get me wrong here.

My brother has been going on for a couple of weeks about he and his wife’s plan for deleting their social media. It’s a good thing but you would think it’s a religious experience for them with all the philosophical statements my brother makes. Or maybe he’s just dramatic (thank God I never am. Ha. Ha.)

My brother has been answering some who ask about his reason for kicking the big “fbook” to the curb, by saying he wants to “make the best of his remaining years.”

He turns 50 in June and in his world 50 is the new 80. But it seems to be where we all are these days (including me) – this impending sense of doom and negativity. We remind ourselves so often that “life is short” and “you never know WHEN YOU WILL DIE!!” in warnings that are supposed to be encouraging that we have forgotten to remind each other to simply live.

I get it. We only get one trip around the sun.

We all die.

Life is short.

That message has been drilled into my head a lot over the years and just in case I didn’t get it I lost three relatives in nine months and a handful of community members passed away as well.

Death is coming.

It’s around the bend.

The grim reaper stands at our door.

But not yet.

Being realistic about death is fine.

Being honest about it is important.

Grieving is important and talking about our grief is very important (so this is not meant as a scolding to those who are grieving), but for all that is good and holy stop reminding everyone they are on the path to death, finding ways to weave it into conversations.

About two years ago death loomed over me like a dark cloud. Test results and severe hypochondria coupled with a mental breakdown had made me decide I had blood cancer and there was no hope. Every day I thought of death and how it was coming and eventually I stopped living. My dog of 14-years died, my aunt’s health was not good, and my husband’s uncle passed away.

One day I was out in our yard trying to make a garden, though I didn’t know why because I was sure I wouldn’t be around the enjoy it. Suddenly I heard a voice within me say “Stop focusing on death and start focusing on living.”

The voice of God? I don’t know but I know I hadn’t been thinking any positive thoughts on my own for about three months at that point.

We can’t really live if all we do is think about how we are dying.

We need to remind people they are on the path of life and life is good much of the time. Maybe telling ourselves we are simply walking toward a new life in the after life is a better idea.

Soon spring will be here and flowers will bloom and birds will chirp and the sky will blue again.

Why don’t we all look toward that new life instead of the grave?

Wrestlers, degenerate reporters and a president on this week’s reading list

This post is part of the Sunday Salon, which is a group of bloggers who join together one day of the week to share what they’re reading, watching or simply what’s up in their life, although it’s mainly about what they are reading.

I’m finally finishing some books I started months ago and either wandered away from when a new and shiny book caught my attention (squirrel!) or simply filed away in the Kindle because it didn’t hold my interest.

shawnFirst up this week to finish was something I don’t normally read – the autobiography of a professional wrestler. Shawn Michaels, also known as the Heartbreak Kid, or by his real name of Michael Shawn Hickenbottom (no, really, that’s his real, non-showbiz name), wrote this second autobiography, “Wrestling for my Life: the Legend, The Reality, and The Faith of a WWE Superstar” several years after his first (that’s what you write when you’re too lazy to look up the date of his first autobiography)  and after becoming a Christian.

The book goes into some detail about how Michaels got his start as a wrestler, but not as much as a first autobiography would. Instead, this book is more about how his faith changed him and became the focal point of his life, seeping into every pore of his being, including professionally.  He writes about his struggles to learn what it means to be a man of faith, the stumbling steps he took toward kicking an alcohol and pill addiction and becoming a better man for his devoted wife, a former wrestler herself, and his children.  This is definitely “light reading” but as a practicing Christian myself, I see a lot of depth in Michaels’ words about his Christian walk.

lincolnA book I’m still plowing through, but haven’t yet finished is The Last Trial of Lincoln, which is about – ummm – the last, um, trial, of Lincoln. Hence the name.

But seriously, it’s a book about the final trial Abraham Lincoln served on as defense attorney before running for president. The basic plot is that Lincoln is defending a young man accused of murdering another man during a knife attack. The question is if it was premeditated or accidental. Much of the book is seen through the eyes of scribe Robert Hitt, the real-life scribe to the trial, whose handwritten manuscript of the trial was discovered in 1989 and is the basis of the book.

The full name of the book is actually “Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to The Presidency.” The author is Dan Abrams, chief legal analyst for ABC News and the book is often as wordy as his book titles (according to Amazon his last book was titled, “Man Down: Proof Beyond A Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else.”)

The book is good, but it’s so chocked full of words and legal jargon and flashbacks that help to paint the picture of who Lincoln was as a lawyer, that I’m finding myself needing breaks from it to rest my poor, less-intellectual brain. I don’t want it to sound like the book is so deep it is unreadable, however, because it is actually entertaining. It’s simply that there are so many flashbacks that I am halfway through it and wondering if we will ever get to the end of the trial before the book ends. I’ll let you know if that happens or not.

A book I just started and read when I want something a little lighter, with quick to the point sentences, is the second book in the Fletch series, Carioca Fletch by Gregory McDonald. Technically, according to my husband, who really should be writing blog posts about books, this is not the “second” Fletch book but it is the book that follows the first book chronologically. In this book, Fletch is in Brazil, having escaped from his past adventure with his life and some money (I won’t spoil that book for you) and is confronted by an old woman who believes he is the reincarnation of her late husband, who was murdered. Now Fletch’s new Brazilian friends, if not Fletch himself, want Fletch to solve the murder and release the soul of the already deceased man.

Since I just started the book, I’m really not sure where it’s going to go but I have a feeling, based on the first Fletch book, it’s going to be a twisted tale where Fletch’s lack of empathy and humanity is going to be showing.

The people in it are pretty sad and without feeling so far, but for some reason, I can’t tear myself away, maybe because Fletch is a crooked journalist and I worked with a few of those during my time as a small town newspaper reporter at four newspapers in Pennsylvania and New York.

When I really need light reading, I turn to something very simple and lighthearted that doesn’t require any intellectual capability at all and for the past few months that has been the Paddington Bear series. Thank you, Michael Bond, for transporting me into a second childhood late at night when I’m trying to take my mind off of the screaming outside word. I’m currently on my third Paddington book – Paddington Abroad.

x400Writing this I am now realizing I’m, again, reading about a British bear, though the other book (Enchanted Places, the autobiography of Christopher Milne) wasn’t necessarily about the “bear” but the boy who was a friend of “the bear” (Winnie the Pooh). I guess there is something comforting to me about bears and the British, maybe because I still have the Teddybear I had as a child and … I have no idea about the British thing since I have no British family members.

So how about you? What are you reading this week? What’s inspiring you? What’s comforting you? What’s making you think?

The town that lost its’ library

The day the library died in the tiny town of New Albany, Pennsylvania, rain fell from the clouds like a waterfall and didn’t stop. The already saturated ground gave way with nothing left to hold it in place. A week before the bottom floor of the library had taken on water in another flash flood, most likely weakening the foundation.
Volunteers were working to clean out the ruined books two days before the water rose again, sending water rushing up around the building as it had before, across the major highway running through town and toward the gas station in the middle of town.
This time the building couldn’t withstand the rush of the water. No one had expected it all to wash into highway it had sat next to for over 60 years, crumbling like a matchstick house, but it did, taking with it some of what one community member called “the dedication of so many to keep it going.”
The downstairs of the building, where the library was, was empty of people when the building collapsed, but a family upstairs was there and held on tight to each other as it fell and their apartment landed fully intact in the water rushing by. Neighbors and the local fire department helped to rescue them, pulling them out and across the rushing water to safety.
The building hadn’t always been a library. A few times it had been a store and above it was an apartment for those who ran the business downstairs. After it became the town library many volunteers, most middle-aged to older women who were retired or homemakers, filled it with books, organizing and categorizing and creating a gift for what some might call a dying town.
Inside its walls were whole new worlds; voices never before heard, thoughts never before thought, dreams never before dreamed, chances to be given, opportunities to be provided, and lives to be escaped for just a little while.
For some, a library doesn’t seem very important, especially in this modern age when books can be read on digital devices and smartphones. But to a town without much, a library can provide a sense of community, a sense of imagination, and even a feeling of belonging.
“Expand your mind” is the encouraging message added at the top of the library’s Facebook page, updated the week flood waters first damaged the library.
Who could blame members of the town if they felt a desire to give up a little bit more on the town when they saw the crumbled ruins of the library either in person or in photos. Some 30 years ago the only factory in town closed, and in subsequent years the town pool was filled in, the only local supermarket burned to the ground, the town bank closed, the elementary school closed, the population began to dwindle and hope began to fade.
The factory never came back but the store reopened and later became a mini-mart and gas station, there was still a post office, a beauty shop, a borough park where the pool once was, and a sense of community- if only one that hung by a thread.
While the town may be dying from an economic standpoint, there are some trying to keep the community feel alive by organizing family days, fire company fundraisers, and, of course, preschool storytime at the library.

Let’s be honest, anyone trying to keep the community feeling in a small town alive today should be commended since it isn’t the physical community that is dying in today’s society, but the idea behind what a community really is. Defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals,” the psychological idea of community is fading into a world where our primary form of communication is smartphones and social media, or anything that doesn’t involve actual in-person interaction.

When photos of the library smashed in the middle of Route 220 surfaced on social media last week a deep feeling of loss was expressed, maybe because so many remembered a simpler time when talking to people face-to-face was normal and days for reading and focusing on less than 10 activities at a time was normal.

 

Honestly, there isn’t much to the town anymore, in some ways. I grew up two miles from there and many of my days were spent riding bikes with my best friends, Julia and Sarah, on its’ streets. I attended the elementary school, swam in the community pool, walked to the local store for snacks, ate with my grandmother at the small diners that are now gone, and yes, even visited the library a couple of times.
For me and others, losing the library was like watching even more of the community break away. After the most recent flash flooding, the library won’t be the only building that will have to be torn down, a fact that only adds to the heartbreak.
“I can’t remember a time without the library,” one man said.
His mother, Doris, was one of the volunteers who worked to build the library’s collection. Now in a nursing home, she asks visitors from her hometown, “How’s the library doing?” Family and friends have decided they won’t tell her the truth about the building, but instead simply let her believe, as they’ve always told her, “It’s doing well.”
Another resident, Todd, said, “The library was a labor of love of so many people. There were many times when some thought it was not used and thus not needed, but these people persevered and keep it going. There were times when hardly anyone came, but they still were there during operating hours. The people were dedicated to keeping the library open, found ways to bring in new books and create programs for kids. And most recently, it became a place for local histories and genealogies. Breaks my heart to see it completely washed away. “
“I remember being very young and going to get a book. It was a big deal to be able to pick your own book out!” a cousin of mine, Gila, said. “I started volunteering at 16 with Doris. I’d stay a few years and then move on. I always came back.

She was one of the main volunteers running the library, updating and rearranging it in the years and months before the flood destroyed it.
Volunteers aren’t yet sure if, or how, they’ll rebuild the library. A fundraising effort has started and the hope is that one day they’ll find a new home where they can again open a  small bastion of imagination, nurtured community and unvetted learning in a small, sometimes physically crumbling town.
Since I recently rediscovered my love for reading full books, and not only short excerpts, I’d love to see the fundraiser succeed and for the spark of knowledge to be lit again. And maybe through it, a desire to rebuild the other parts of town damaged or falling apart even before the flood.
To learn more about the fundraiser to rebuild the library click on this link….

The week in review: swearing preschoolers, more rain, and a little local history

When I got back from picking up a few groceries one day this week my 11-year old niece let me know that my daughter, who will be four in October, had been placed in time out while I was gone for taking the Lord’s name in vain. My niece didn’t call it that because my niece hasn’t been brought up in the church so she doesn’t know the Christianese my family does, but she felt that my daughter saying “Jesus!” emphatically several times in a row was not appropriate and so she made her sit in time out. My daughter didn’t mind sitting in time out, by the way, but what did send her into a crying fit was when she was told she couldn’t watch any cartoons for the duration of the time-out. Her time-outs are three minutes so it’s not like not watching a cartoon for that duration is the end of the world, but I suppose it’s a big deal when you are almost four.

Now, in my house I have said “Jesus” several times in a row but not as a swear word. I deal with some chronic health issues so I have been known to say the name Jesus when I can’t think what else to pray. And sometimes I even say it emphatically. I thought maybe this is what my daughter was imitating but I didn’t really have time to try to figure it out at that moment because she needed a nap. I thanked my niece, took Little Miss up for her nap, and didn’t think much about it again until that night at bedtime.

We read The Oscar the Grouch book two times and then she told me she’d learned something that day.

I said, “oh? What did you learn?”

“I learned that geez louise is a really bad word,” she said seriously. “It is not good to say.”

I said, “is that what you were saying today with your cousin?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding and looking a bit bewildered by it all.

Though her brother says he heard her and knows she was saying “Jesus” I have a feeling she thought she was saying “geez louise” and never thought she was somehow swearing at the heavens.

I let her know that geez louise isn’t necessarily a polite word but in our house, it isn’t considered a swear word. After that conversation, I felt relieved my daughter hadn’t picked up an offensive way to speak about Jesus and looked forward to the day her articulation is more developed.


It rained all week again, which left the little town I grew up near dealing with some flooding. I live about 40 minutes north now and we escaped any major damage but we were ready for some sunshine and a change of scenery by the weekend so we traveled to a historical site near us called French Azilum.

It’s touted as the place where Marie Antionette was going to live if she had escaped France alive, which, of course, she didn’t, instead losing her head to the guillotine. A group of her servants traveled on ahead, however, eventually settling the land in the area along the river before some of them eventually returned to France and others left the settlement and founded other villages around the county, including the village I grew up in.

One of the main highlights of the site is the Laporte House, which was built in 1836 by John Laporte, a son of one of the original French settlers. The home is original and provides a look at how life was lived in the early days of our country. Mr. Laporte was a US Senator, a state representative, his family name was carried on in the town name of the county seat of our neighboring county, Sullivan County, and apparently, he was also a very tall and large man at 6′ something and 300 some pounds. A tour of the home and where his family would have lived is something that I had never experienced before, despite living in the area my entire life and having visited the site more than once over the years. My mom has told me I did tour the house at least once, as a child, and though I don’t remember that tour, the house did seem vaguely and eerily familiar to me, which I figured was simply because I grew up in and around very old houses.

A Civil War encampment had been set up on the grounds, unrelated to the historical site, and we were being given a tour by the local historian and camp commander when he was called away to a cast iron frying pan throwing contest. Yes, you read right – a cast iron frying pan throwing contest.

 

DSC_7412

We decided this wasn’t something we wanted to miss so we headed to a field to watch women in long dresses toss cast iron pans toward the camp commander to see how far they could throw. I believe the longest toss was about 37 feet and it was a young girl with a wicked pitching arm. Apparently, the tossers normally have their husbands or intended stand out in the field as a “bit of motivation” for their throw. This time they had the local historian instead and luckily he came out unscathed.

DSC_7448DSC_7457

I was asked to participate and I declined, a decision I now regret, because, as I told my sister-in-law later in the day, I don’t feel you’ve fully lived until you’ve tossed a cast iron pan at a man in a field. If I’m ever asked to toss a pan again I’ll definitely take them up on the offer.

DSC_7426DSC_7436DSC_7481DSC_7365-2

Why I didn’t want to tell my son about the death of Anthony Bourdain

I didn’t even know him.

Not really.

But yet it was almost like losing a close friend.

BN-XZ106_BOURDA_16RH_20180323105943
Photo by the Wall Street Journal digital artwork by Lisa R. Howeler

I’d had a crappy night of sleep with two sick kids and I had reached for my phone to see what time it was. There it is was on my screen- a note from my sister in law expressing shock to the obituary story she had attached.

“No. It isn’t possible.”

I thought this over and over in my bleary-eyed, not fully awake state.

The man who had taken me around the world so many times without me even having to leave my house was dead. I typed out the word “nooo!” to my sister-in-law, as if that word would stop it from being true.

I felt numb and sick to my stomach. It must have been his heart, I thought.

Or something he ate.

He was always eating weird things and something finally got him. Or a car accident or his plane went down while they were traveling to somewhere exotic.

My heart sank when I clicked the link. I was in shock when I read the words.

Suicide?!

Suicide?

Suicide.

It’s like the word wouldn’t even make sense to me.

Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide.

I follow him on social media and recently I had noticed he was looking thin and tired but he travels a lot so I figured he was exhausted. It had been a stressful couple of years. A whirlwind break-up followed by a whirlwind romance and then all that traveling.

Now all that traveling I loved to watch him do was over and the only trip he’d most likely be making was a one-way flight back to the states to be buried.

Suicide.

I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the horror of it all and the horror for Eric Ripert, his best friend, to find him that way. And his daughter. Oh, my heart ached and my head felt funny at the thought of her being told.

I’ve never been a traveler – partially because of finances and partially because I’ve lived a life of fear. Tony made me want to live a life of courage in my small world and if I couldn’t go to all those fancy places just yet I could at least watch him visit them. My son learned about much of the world from a very young age while his dad and I traveled with Tony.

We let him watch episodes we probably shouldn’t have at 4 and 5 and he was introduced to death on an episode where a pig was slaughtered. Granted, this was the age when “No Reservations” was already streaming so we could fast forward the scene, but my kid is wise beyond his years and he knew what was happening despite our attempts to shield him.

We haven’t been able to shield him much these last couple years – not from heartache and anxiety and death. First, the big loss was our dog of 14 years, the dog that had always been his. Then it was a 17-year-old cat, again there all his 11 years. Then the worst blow came four days after Christmas this year when he lost his great-aunt, who had lived with his grandparents since he was four. His head was spinning. School pressure was mounting. Panic attacks were becoming the norm.

We’ve walked through it with him with every loss, every question, every tear, and every crying storm. All the advice says you have to tell your child directly and bluntly about the person who has died so they don’t feel they are being lied to or misled.

When I told my son about his great aunt I was apparently too blunt. I was so nervous because I’d never had to tell him something so hard – not even the death of his dog could compare to this. I blurted out “Dianne died.”

Died. I used the word died because all the articles I found on Google told me to. “Don’t use the words ‘passed on’ or ‘went to a better place,’” the proverbial “they” said. “It needs to be clear to the child the person is dead and never coming back.”

I was so numb from the sudden loss I really didn’t think it through because that advice was for young people, not 11-year olds who clearly know the meaning of the word “dead” but would also understand the term “passed away” would mean the same thing.

He clearly knows what death is and here I was that morning knowing I needed to rip the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death off like a band-aid but, ugh, crap and darn it all to hell, I simply didn’t want to. Especially because I had to add the word “suicide” to the ripping.

“For a little while today I’ll shelter him,” I told myself. “We don’t have cable so he won’t hear it there.”

And all the traditional advice says the news of death must come from someone the child loves so I knew I couldn’t shelter him for long.

The ripping started with the lifting of the edge and then just one fast, hard pull. When I told him he said “oh that’s sad,” but he didn’t take it as hard as I thought. He did, however, express the same denial I did when I told him they thought he’d taken his own life.

“That’s just not possible,” he said. “I don’t believe that part of the story.”

We both agreed it wasn’t possible and we comforted ourselves in our denial of it all.