Meeting Challenges

Staying in Focus: Escape from Mount Sanctuary

ANNOUNCING the release of my novel for children:

 

 

Book Cover small

 

Although written with children in mind, the story is one you will never forget, a story of friendship, acceptance and tolerance for those different from us, of family and courage and sacrifice. It is a cautionary tale written to remind us how beautiful, yet fragile, is our world,  and how important is our stewardship of  it. It is  a story of  a boy coming of age, for readers of all ages.

 

Escape from Mount Sanctuary now available from the Kindle store at Amazon.com. It’s a bargain at only $.99. No Kindle, no problem. Simply download the FREE Kindle app  and you can view the book on your computer.  Here’s a link to the site:

http://www.amazon.com/Escape-Mount-Sanctuary-Imagine-discover-ebook/dp/B00JYJ5AZI/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_dnr_2

 

On the lower right hand corner of the page you will see a link to the free Kindle app. The book will be available in print on demand in the coming weeks if you prefer traditional books.

Book Description

 April 25, 2014
What if you had the chance to discover the world all over again? In Escape from Mount Sanctuary, a young boy named Ke does exactly that. Ke has lived his life in special caverns built to shelter survivors and their descendants beneath the Earth’s surface following a cataclysmic event ages ago. Ke learns that there is an “outside” to his world, a world long thought abandoned. Ke is intrigued, especially when he meets a girl (Mira) from an outside settlement and a wolf named Tip, who possesses special abilities. With this pair of adventurers, Ke and his elder friend, Tuck, embark on a journey into a world far more wondrous, and dangerous, than they imagined. During their journey, Ke, a naïve young boy with dreams of becoming a storyteller, learns much about friendships and family, self-reliance and sacrifice. By journey’s end, they all come to realize that courage is not measured by one’s size or one’s age, but by the conviction in one’s heart. Their story celebrates the joy of discovery, the wonder of our world and the rewards of perseverance. It encourages its readers to follow their dreams wherever they may lead. It is about discovering the world all over again.
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Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: A Pat on the Back

Daily Prompt Tell someone you’re proud of just how proud you are.

I have several people I am especially proud of . Two of them, my mother and my friend Debbi, are battling breast cancer.
Mom has had it 3 times – she has had 2 mastectomies, radiation and chemo in her battle with this relentless disease. At 90 years old, the chemo proved to be too much for her, and she has chosen quality of life in the time she has left, verses weeks of such debilitating  side effects.  I applaud her strength in deciding for herself  what she wants her last days to be like.

Through all this she has not lost her sense of humor, telling me that every morning. by the time she washes up, puts in her hearing aid, her false teeth, her glasses, fastens on her prosthesis and “harness” as she calls it, and puts  her wig in place, it’s time for a nap! We wonder about what percentage of these morning add-ons you must have to reach android status! Now we want to get her an alert system and she sighed saying another thing to attach to my body!

Debbi has had her surgery and is about to complete her radiation, and then begin chemo after Labor Day.  She, too, retains her sense of humor, saying at least with the wig she will not have to worry about bad hair days. The worst thing about it all, my mother has said, is that it changes your body image so drastically. Even at 90, she mourns the loss of the body of her youth. But these are strong women, who know what they have to do to survive, and for them, retaining their sense of humor is the key. They’ve learned to live day by day, celebrate all the moments when they feel a little better, or the sun seems a little brighter and keep on keepin on. So to them, I dedicate this poem:

My True Heroines

You are beautiful…

the light that shines from within

cancer cannot  reach nor dim

your sense of humor is your strength

nothing can touch your inner grace

the body may have to take it’s blows

but as everybody knows

you are the spirit that lives within

though the body may change

you’ will always remain

a heroine to me

for you are beautiful….

pc2013

Staying in Focus: LIfe is the Journey

Daily Prompt: JourneyIMG_9657

We all on a journey because life is the greatest journey we will ever take.. Where we began and where we end is not the focus of life, but the journey through it is. What have I learned in my 60 year journey through life so far? I’ve learned that there will be joy as surely a there will be tears. There will be success  and there  will be failure. There will be moments of fear and acts of heroism. There will be days when I think  I’ve  had just about all I can take,  and days so beautiful I never want to see  them  end. I’ve learned that my life experience is up to me. I can make choices and I can make changes. The journey is not always  a straight line from beginning to end.  Sideroads and hidden paths sometimes confuse my progression, other times lead me to new experiences that help me grow.

Take my Parkinson’s disease, for instance. Never that one coming. A bit of a roadblock,  it has become my constant  companion for six years now, and  it has, of course,caused me to make some changes in the direction I was going on my journey before PD. As John Lennon so wisely observed, Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. My advice is  make plans, but make them out of silly putty,  so they can stretch in whatever direction your journey requires. PD may have slowed me  down, but my journey continues and I am moving forward.

Let me add that the journey will  provide opportunities for mystery and promise, challenge and  despair, triumph and heartbreak. Life is not a journey for the timid or the weak. It is a journey of discovery, of finding a way past the roadblocks, meeting the challenges,  finding the opportunities to be magnificent.  Discovering who you are and what you are capable of achieving  is the quest of the journey.

I try to take my journey one step at a time, not so intent on trying to see what is coming that I miss what is, right now.  If I am mindful, when my journey is complete, I will have the memories of a life well-lived; if not, I’ll be filled with regret for all those lost opportunities to make my life matter , to embrace my journey. no matter where it leads or how it challenges me. I intend to complete my journey with no regrets.

So, perhaps, I will see you out there on the road,. Our journeys intersect and mix with others constantly. May your journey be just what you need it to be. may you be what your journey needs you to be – magnificent.

Staying In Focus: A Timeline of a Lifetime

009I am working on a timeline for my mother’s birthday. 010 I hope she will be up to having  a party. She just had her second round of chemo on Monday and yesterday was very ill. She is staying hydrated but doesn’t want to eat as she doesn’t want to get sick again. I now can see why people with cancer lose so much weight and are so weak. At this point, the cure is far worse than the disease, but we know that won’t be so if she decides to opt out. She has 10 more treatments to go, if she can just hang on. I do so hope she can get to  feeling a little better by Saturday. My sister and I plan to take her to Lovely Lady to get fitted for a wig, and then out to lunch (something mild) for some special  mother/daughters time.

012And speaking of time, making her timeline has been quite eye-opening. I’ ve included not only family milestones. but historical and cultural ones as well. 90 years covers a lot of territory.  Here are some of the things my mother has seen happen or have  been invented in her 90 years:

The Great Depression
The attack on Pearl Harbor
World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, The Vietnam War, The wars in Iraq and 004Afghanistan
The Cuban Missile Crisis
The assassination of JFK
The Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement, the Environmental Movement
Passage of the 15th Amendment giving African-Americans the right to vote
The invention of 45 rpm records, 8 track cassettes,audio cassettes, cds, mp3s and iPods
invention of microwave ovens, laser surgery, CAT and PET scans and MRIs
Tupperware
The Internet (the word wide web), Facebook
Global Warming
the advent of large corporations – IBM, Walmart, Amazon
transistor radios, car radios, black and white television, color television, VCRs, DVD players, Tivo,  DVRs, Home Box Office,  Movies on Demand, Netflicks, Streaming, reality TV
the invention of video games from pong to CGIs, MMORPGs.
Polaroid cameras, SLR, digital cameras, digital SLRs, cameras in phones, Photoshop
touch tone phones, mobile phones, cell phones, smart phones
personal computers, laptops, e readers, iPads, home printers, scanners, fax machines GPS
man reaches orbit, man lands on moon, space shuttles invented, Challenger disaster,
the International Space Station built, shuttles retired, US lands rovers on Mars, pictures from space ( Apollo and Voyager Program)
atom bombs dropped on Japan, nuclear arms race begins, rise of terrorism, 9/11
slang phrases :groovy, cool, far out, just sayin, one up, fly, lol, rotf

Isaac

Isaac Wetzel

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Jeanette and her fiancee, Jarred Tafaro

I could go on forever. It ‘s an interesting phenomenon to see  how we humans adapt to constant change. Yet, while all this was happening, my mother’s life was unfolding. She grew up as part of a large family living in a small town in northern New Jersey. She graduated from high school, worked in a munitions  factory during WWII, then married , raised her family,volunteered in the schools, worked with her husband in his plastics manufacturing business, then retired to North Carolina where she has enjoyed watching her grandchildren and two great-grandchildren grow. She has weathered her share of challenges with dignity and grace,including the deaths of her husband, her son, John, and every other member of her birth family, including their spouses.She is, in this respect, the last woman standing. And so she is  handling this latest challenge with courage and tenacity.as well. This i s her third battle with cancer.  But at 90 , though the will be strong, the body is tired, and I’m not sure how long she can hold out. I hope she can, though, so she can attend the bridal shower of her granddaughter, Jeanette, celebrate my birthday on May 16th (#60!) and her party on May 18th and the graduation of her grandson, Isaac , from Brunswick County Early College High School. . In June we have Isaac’s graduation from high school, and Jeanette’s marriage to Jarred Tafaro on June 22nd. So much to celebrate in a life of 90 years. I used a gold ribbon to run through mom’s timeline, because she has lived an exemplary life , and I believe she’s earned the gold. I was sure not to end the  ribbon, but to shape the end in an arrow and hopefully have years to add onto the magnificent life of a gracious lady.

Focus on: Painting and Planning and Parkinson’s

Life is a trip.Don’t miss the boat:)
– pc 2013

   

 I had a visit with my neurologist on Thursday.  So far, so good.  Meds are working and I seem to be in a holding pattern. Bill and I decided to take advantage of this and book a cruise around the British Isles in July.  It will be a 12 day cruise, with 2 days to explore London after we leave the ship.  We will tour Ireland, Scotland, England and spend a day in Paris We are looking forward to the trip.  Neither of us has been to Europe and although we took a nice stroll through the neighborhoods of Victoria, Canada last summer, the final port of call on our Alaska cruise, we have yet to acquire a stamp on our shiny new passports.
 Right now, there are days I almost forget I have a degenerative neural disease, but I know that will not always be so, unless a cure for Parkinson’s is discovered, So I want to do what I can while I can.! That means getting enough exercise to keep the body moving, and challenging the mind so it stays sharp.
  I find that anything I do with my hands is very helpful in keeping my fingers nimble In addition to exercises, So I do some cross stitch, make jewelry and I love to paint. I’m not an artist, however, but I enjoy  paint-by-number painting.  It helps my fine motor coordination; is a calming activity and I get to practice patience as well.  Here are a few of what I call masterpieces. from a wannabe artist:

I found this little garden angel irresistible

I found this little garden angel irresistible

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There’s something about a barn in the snow…

.  I  find the paint- by -number to be more relaxing because you don’t have to figure out the color   scheme. .However, as I paint, I begin to see how the artist  used the colors to achieve the total effect, so it is a learning experience as well. I am in awe of anyone who has this natural talent. My niece, Becky ,is one of them. Her paintings are so intricate,  She will work hours on just a small section of a painting, and her finished work is amazing. What a wonderful gift!

King Tut. I am fascinated by all things ancient Egyptian

King Tut. I am fascinated by all things ancient Egyptian

Just recently I came across something new in the paint- by -number scene, from a company called Diy oil paintings, and they are bright, abstract and delightful to paint. I chose the one I did because the blues match the colors in my living room. I have ordered a second one before I finished the first. What makes these stand out, besides the bold, abstract style, is that they are printed on a canvas you have to stretch over a stretcher frame supplied with the kit.I have found the paints to be of excellent quality – not the thin, runny stuff you find in other kits. Here is the finished product. Different, isn’t it? I like the bold strokes of the primary colors, the effect of wet pavement shimmering in the lamplight. In this small sample it may appear there is one person walking, but there are two, if you look closely you can make them out. Where are they going on such a cold, wet night? Maybe they couldn’t resist walking together, no one else about, under trees decked in autumn dress, the colors glowing in the lamplight, surrounded by a cloak of midnight blue. 

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I’m anxious to start the next one! I have dabbled a bit in painting on my own.  Mostly mountain, sunsets and butterflies. I’d like to try this style now.

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I painted this butterfly to match the blue-greens of my kitchen. The first mountain sunset is in acrylic, the second is a watercolor.

So for as long as I can, I will challenge myself with new ventures. Painting is much easier than my other current challenge – algebra. I never mastered it in high school, but I can say I’m getting there, There is a sense of satisfaction when I come up with te right answer. My online courses have been superb. My next one will be Introduction to Internet Writing Markets.

I have just wrapped up my course on magazine writing and will be sending out some articles to test the waters.

I also have plans for the publication of two of my books, more about that next time.

In the meantime, take some time to let your creativity loose. You may be surprised about what you can do. In                the words of my favorite painter, Vincent Van Gough, If you hear a voice inside you say ‘You cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.

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Staying in Focus: A Day Out of Our Life

There is probably nothing as stressful as a day at the hospital, waiting for a loved one to emerge safely from surgery.  We arrived at the hospital at 5:45 AM and soon after people began pouring in, most of them looking as tired as we already felt, after a night of little sleep, due to both fear and anticipation in getting there and getting through the day.  Once you enter those doors,  you enter a new time zone — hospital time. You can literally see the hand of the clocks moving slower.  Around 6:30, mom’s name was called and she received a paper to carry to the next stop on her journey.   An orderly escorted her in and in a relatively short time my sister, Mary ,and I, were escorted to a room where they had her prepped and ready to go. The little room was crowded with scrub-dressed staff bustling around, and after a visit from the anesthesiologist and her surgeon, it was time for her to begin her journey. We said our goodbyes and found our way to the surgical patient waiting area. This room was quiet, filled with anxious people awaiting news.

But thanks to modern technology, this is eased somewhat by a large TV screen displaying a chart which tracked the patient’s progress through surgery, recovery and onto their room or release. There is also a staff member there to answer the phone when the surgeon calls, or make calls to get you information if needed.  Fortunately, my sister is close friends with the head of the maternity wing of the hospital (Central Carolina) and her daughter, Jackie, is on Dr. Gordon’s surgical team, so she was with mom in the OR. Given all this help, support and information we were assured all was going well throughout the procedure.

Everything went like clockwork, and soon it was time to go up to her room, but she’d hadn’t arrived yet when we got there, so we sat  down to wait — hospital time, remember.  Finally, she arrived and they had her hooked up to so many wires she looked liked a Borg (see Star Trek: The Next Generation). She dozed on and off all afternoon, but she was more alert than I had anticipated and was visiting with my brother and his family when we left. Mary and I sighed as the elevator delivered us to the first floor.  We exited the doors we had entered eleven hours earlier. Step one complete.

. I’ve often marveled at the way a day at the hospital really does require that you take a step out of your life.  We entered before dawn and on this February evening, the sun was already setting as we left.the hospital .But whereas we had stepped out of our lives for a day, on the outside, the world continued on, business as usual. People were working, walking their dogs, jogging through the park, driving home from work.  We had missed it all.

But despite our weariness, we had seen mom  through the first step on this long journey to save her life.  The doctors tell us she needs six weeks of healing before any decisions or discussions will take place.

I returned to Sanford on Sunday, and stayed at my sister’s house.  On Monday, mom’s friend,Betty, and I went to collect mom from the hospital.  I stayed with her at her house until Wednesday when the doctor removed the drain tubes, changed her dressing and approved her trip up to Cary for the weekend.  On Sunday, my sister will come and fetch her for another appointment on Monday, for which the doctor hopes to have the pathology report.  They want to know where this tumor came from. The answer to that  question will determine our next step.

There may be more obstacles as we move forward on this journey not of our choosing. But  we must play the cards we are dealt, or as Betty said while we were waiting at the hospital, you have to live until you die.What choice have we?

Note: For anyone facing a life threatening illness, surgery or any kind of long hospital stay, the following idea worked  for us.  My niece, Jeanette, suggested we  each write a letter of encouragement to my mom, or “Nana” as she is to so many people. We passed the word around and soon the letters began to accumulate. I placed then in clear plastic paper protector sheets and put them in a binder.  By using the plastic sheets, the letters are preserved and for  those who sent cards we opened them up and  inserted them into the sleeves, so both the front and inside of the cards can be seen. I put a cover sheet on the front of the binder, which also had  a clear plastic pocket on the front, and wrote, “To Nana, With Love”  —  a collection of cards and letters to encourage you during your recovery.

Mary read the letters to mom and she loved them. To know so many people are pulling for you is very comforting. Like I said in my last post, if you send ripples of love out into the universe, love ripples right back at you!

                   

Staying in Focus: On Blossoms and Butterflies

I just knew it was going to happen.  I looked out at the small Japanese cherry tree we have growing in our backyard, and I said to my husband, “If this warm weather keeps up much longer that cherry tree is going to bloom.”IMG_9782And sure enough, I looked out at the tree today, and it has at least twenty blooms on its spindly branches. If I look out across the backyards of my neighbors, every cherry tree in every backyard is in bloom, some fully so.  The trees, it seems, are as confused as we are about the weather.  We dress in short sleeve shirts instead of woolly, warm sweaters, and the trees deck themselves out with blossoms, instead of taking their usual winter nap, and waiting for spring to call forth their awakening with blossoms and leaves.

As happenstance would have it, I have just finished reading Flight Behavior by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. Her prose is a delight to read.  I savor the words like sweet candy on my tongue,  as I read such phrases as, She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how one hard little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of a long disgrace.”

And so begins the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, who, at the novel’s, beginning, is engaging in her own flight behavior, trying to run away from a life she fell into by circumstance. At the same time, she discovers a host of monarch butterflies nesting in the trees on her family’s land, butterflies that are also confused in their flight behavior, choosing the mountains of Tennessee instead of the warmer climes of Mexico to weather out the winter months.

And just as the butterfly will emerge from the chrysalis when it has matured and is ready to take flight, so does Dellarobia as she faces the growth and changes this visit from the butterflies brings to her life. The two story lines are woven together in a larger tapestry encompassing  faith, climate change, relationships, responsibility, love, life, birth and death, and all is examined with both honesty and humor by Ms. Kingsolver.

Dellarobia, her young, precocious son, Preston, her disapproving mother-in-law, and her faithful but distant husband, as well as the scientist who comes to study the butterflies, all emerge from their winter, their life chrysalis as spring arrives, changed and armed with new insights and knowledge which force them to face matters long ignored and deeply buried.

And in this small microcosm Ms. Kingsolver has created, we see ourselves.  Climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it is a reality we will have to deal with. We will have to change our attitudes for whether or not we are the cause of the changes, it is obvious something is happening and as stewards of our world, it is up to us to figure it out. Hurricanes and tornadoes are stronger and more frequent, temperatures more mild in the south well into December, droughts plague many areas on Earth, other places experience floods. Firestorms rage , heavy snow falls, ice caps melt.  There is no doubt the climate has become destabilized.  What this means to our survival as well as the other species inhabiting the planet with us, and on whom we depend for building materials, drugs, food, etc.must be determined and steps taken to turn things around before it is too late.

On our visit to Alaska this year, the naturalists at the Mendenhall Glacier explained how the glacier was receding faster than expected. On our whale watch they talked of ecosystems and how the very large depend on the very small for survival.  And the very small are speaking out, their story one of over-use, or over-development. Why are the tree frogs disappearing.? and the bees? Where have the masses of krill, which feed the mighty whales gone? Why is the cherry tree blooming in December? And what will the polar bears do when the last of the ice shelves melt?  What will we  do?

We can choose to be believers in a prosperous future, as Ms. Kingsolver writes in her collection of essays, Small Wonder:

we are much to clever an animal, it seems, to kill ourselves now. This is the lot I was cast, to sit here on this jagged point between two centuries when so much of everything hangs in the balance. I get to choose whether to hang it up or hang on, and I hang on because I was born to do it, like everyone else. I insist that I can do something right, if I try. I insist that you can, too, that in fact you already are, and there’s a whole lot more where this came from…

….What I can find is this, and so it has to be: conquering my own despair by doing what little I can.  Stealing thunder, tucking it in my pocket for the long drought. Dreaming in the color green, tasting the end of anger…..Maybe it doesn’t cost anything to hope, and those of us who do will be able to live better, more honest lives as believers than we would as cynics…Maybe life doesn’t get much better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what we’re willing to find: small wonders, where they grow…

Blossoms and butterflies.  Small Wonders.

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How sad it would be to lose these forever

How sad it would be to lose these forever

Staying in Focus: Finding Time for Friendship

Why do we let so much time pass without getting together with our friends? Last night I had  a group of special ladies over for our annual Christmas gathering.   I have known these gals for many years.IMG_1165 crop Several of them worked with me at the Sylvan Learning  Center, others came as friends of a group member and were drawn into the fold  .We formed a book group,  meeting once a month to discuss the book we’d chosen to read, but mostly we used the time to catch up with one another. New members joined, others left when they moved out of the area, but a core group of us  persisted.  After a while, though, we all became so busy that meeting once a month became difficult.  But we always make an effort to gather together every Christmas when we pledge to get together soon, and the next thing we know, it’s December again.

We had a good time last night, sharing the ups and downs of the past year.  There were, sadly, the loss of parents and divorces among our grown children to report.  We discussed everything from  dealing with illness, and questions about retirement, to the challenges of figuring out our smart phones!  And, of course, pictures of the grandchildren to pass around.

So many changes and adjustments to make or contemplate accrue in our lives over the course of a year and there is nothing like having a group of supportive, sympathetic friends to lend and ear or give you a hug when you need one.  It sends a message we all need to hear, an assurance that we are not alone. But the reality is, our lives are very complicated and the demands on our time and energy are many.  No wonder the days pass like an express train racing through our lives.

They call us the sandwich generation, an apt description.  Sandwiched between the needs of aging parents and our children, many of whom fail to be fledged, returning to the nest, sometimes with fledglings of their own in tow. Today we have our parents living longer, which is a blessing,  although medical problems can make it difficult for them to handle things on their own.  We want to keep them with us  as long as possible but caring for them can become a full-time job. Then there are our children, dealing with job loss or failed marriages, needing financial assistance, or even a roof over their heads and someone to watch the little ones while they work. Sandwiched indeed!  But at a time when we are feeling the effects of aging, too, with illnesses and fatigue of our own to handle. We see retirement slipping further and further away. We get discouraged and often depressed

But every now and then, we need to slip away and seek comfort and a sense of renewal. Caregivers must never forget to care for themselves  And what better way than an evening spent in the company of supportive friends, willing to share the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the fears, the challenges and the changes we face everyday?  I think we all need more of this . We’re not looking for answers, just for someone to listen.

This quote by Benjamin Franklin comes to mind: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.”   So look out ladies.  I’ll be  calling. Maybe in the spring, a trip to Fearrington or Duke Gardens will be in our future.

This year is going to be different.  This year we are getting together again before t the Christmas decorations go up. ( Unless, of course, I don’t get a chance to take them down till next December!)

Staying in Focus: On Traditions, Old and New

Well, it’s almost that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about the shopping and the cooking and the trimming and the wrapping.  I’m talking about the oft maligned Christmas letter.  Now, I know it’s not a requirement, but somehow a Christmas card with just a hurried signature at the bottom seems out of sync with the intent of the season. You know, reaching out to loved ones, spreading good cheer, peace on earth…

What is most daunting to me about writing my Christmas letter it is finding something interesting to share. Some years there are not a lot changes, and I am challenged to write a paragraph or two.  Other years I walk the fine line between filling the folks in on happenings and sending them into a deep depression.

In the old days of a Currier and Ives Christmas, everyone hitched old Dobbin to the sleigh and went about with bells ringing, and snowflakes falling, greeting one another in person, often dropping off fruitcakes which are still in circulation today. I could get with that except that old Dobbin (or even our little Honda Fit) would be hard pressed to get to New Jersey and New York and Alabama and Minnesota and California – you get the picture. Family and friends are scattered far and wide these days.  And although we can keep in touch with phone calls and Skype and the internet, we seem to have enough trouble just getting together with the neighbors let alone someone living 3000 miles away. So despite our best intentions, it often falls to the Christmas card letter to bear the tidings of good cheer and fill our far away folks in on our happenings.

Now the Christmas letter is not an old tradition.  I think it came along about the time people lost the ability to write legibly, some kind of virus, I guess, and soon the typewriter was followed by word processors, computers, home printers and, wonder of wonders, we could now not only type our letters, but make newsletters with pictures and columns and everything! We can even make our own photo cards provided we have a small fortune put aside for ink cartridges.

Now there is a tendency for the Christmas letter to become a bit, shall I say, competitive? We all believe our children are the best and the brightest but after a little Madison was the youngest person ever to win the Nobel  Peace Prize when her You Tube video went viral.  And, of course, Trevor won the Pulitzer Prize two years in a row and now has a six figure advance for his next book. I just smile and wish them well. And continue to send my letters out to those folks I rarely get to see, Just to let them know we are still here and doing the best we can.

I look at my brood, and although there is not a Nobel Peace Prize or a Pulitzer Prize on our  fireplace mantel, we’ve had our share of triumphs as well as challenges and it is in their meeting the challenges that I am most proud.

One of our aunts lived in Florida.  She would always remark on how much she looked forward to reading our newsletter every year. The older folks remember the time before, when people wrote actual letters with pen and ink .  Sadly, Aunt Mary passed away this year and soon her generation will have passed and with them the traditional Christmas card and the occasional letter will probably pass away as well.  Who needs snail mail when you can zap an animated electronic card instantly to all your Facebook pals with one satisfying click of the enter key? I know, I can use my Kindle and its touch screen to do the job, but those little pretend keys annoy the heck out of me.

Many years ago, I started to include a Christmas poem I had written with my letter.  I have a friend, now living in Texas, who wrote and told me they enjoy the poems, and read them at Christmas dinner as part of their family tradition.

And some of my friends are pretty clever with their letters.  I have a friend who spends much of the year travelling and on the back of her letter last year she had made a word search game of the countries she had visited.

And you know, now that I think of it, in some ways the Christmas letter should not be maligned at all, because it helps us to realize that no matter what the year has brought us, we weathered it together, and when we face a difficult one like this past year was for us, with health concerns, job loss, a death in the family and an impending divorce for my son, Steve, we realize there were lots of bright spots, too . We cruised to Alaska, attended the wedding of a good friend’s daughter, my two nieces both became engaged  and my son, Kevin, and nephew Matt, are close to getting their game ready for submission.  My friend, Linda ,and I went to several great exhibits including the Titanic Exhibit, a Gone With the Wind Exhibit and a beautiful display of Mobile Art at the NC Museum of Art. We had visits from our Poughkeepsie friends and cruise mates, Denise and Geoff, and our Alabama buddies, Kathi and Don as well as the annual Coyle/Seidel family visit .

Maybe, now that I think about it, the Christmas letter should be written to ourselves, a reminder to focus on the positive, look for that silver lining, count those blessings and the rest will fall into place.

Please consider this post my Christmas letter to you.  Take a minute to write one to yourself. Recall the tough times, give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate the good ones, the ones which make life worth living. Perhaps that is what the Christmas letter is all about, Charlie Brown.

In the meantime, we’ll have Dobbins hitched up and be delivering those fruitcakes as soon as it snows!

And the mouse hits the publish key with a satisfying click!

Staying in Focus: Sunrise, Sunsets and the Days of Our Lives on Vacation

We will be taking a vacation over the next ten days, and my internet access may be limited.  We are heading into hurricane country ( the northeast) but right now the forecast is for rain mostly, some wind, but we don’t care.  The resort we stay at has a huge indoor game room filled with ping pong and pool tables, video games,  a miniature golf course, a gymnasium, a lounge where trivia games are played during the day, and  a theater where bands, comedians  and magicians entertain us at night.  The cafe and the dining room are in this building as well, so we’ll have fun despite the weather. If we choose to stay in our room, we have  a silk blush bed, a bathtub for two and our own heated swimming pool. So as you can see, plenty to keep us busy! I’ll try to check in if their free wi fi is functioning.  The goal of this vacation is really to relax and destress from all the pressures we are facing.  I have my appointment with the oncologist on November 5th, to find out the results of the CT scan. I plan to rest, relax, meditate and prepare for whatever comes. I have some poetry ideas bouncing about in my mind, so I probably write as well.  Anyway, see you next week  if possible, by Nov. 1st for sure.

As you know, my trip to Alaska had  a profound effect on me. I’ve always loved nature, mountains especially, and I guess I didn’t  realize how much I missed it.  I mean, we have mountains in North Carolina, and we pass through them on our way to visit my pal in Alabama, and we travel to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, but these are domesticated mountains (ah, the line or title of a poem), not the wild, mighty snow-capped beauties of Alaska.  Walk through the capital city, Juneau, and you could almost expect to see  a bear rambling down the street. Juneau itself looks like  a frontier town. And arriving in Alaska by sea was an equally moving experience.

I know I’ve mentioned that incredible sunrise I witnessed on our first dawn aboard ship..   My husband was asleep as, seemingly, was the rest of the world.  It was just the sea, the sun, the sky, and me.  I could have stood watching that sunrise forever. But as if often true with beauty, it is fleeting, and the moment passed.  But the memory, remains, and taking this poetry class has helped me find away to better voice these experiences. Our teacher has asked us to see if we can find our niche in poetry by reviewing all we’ve written and I have two central themes, nature and family/memories, which recur most often when I write.

Anyway, I wrote this sestina poem about Alaska and the series of  seven haiku poems about the sunrise.  The goal of poetry is to paint such a vivid picture of your subject or experience with words, that the reader feels he or she is experiencing it firsthand. I hope this takes you, for a moment, to a different place.

And Did I Mention the Water is Aquamarine   (Sestina)

a pristine wilderness, wild and untamed, a place called Alaska
a land of bears and  bald eagles, graced with icy glaciers
and did I mention the water is aquamarine?
our ship slowly starts passage into the fjord, a slim slice of paradise
we pass the silent sentinels,  the mighty mountains,
a disturbance in the water, we are in the company of whales

we spy a spout of steam,  a telltale sign, we watch for the whales
in summer, they come to feed on small fish off the coast of Alaska
fresh water runs in rivers from the melting snows of the mountains,
slowly they move, ages old, ever-changing,  grinding rock and ice, the glaciers
glow on a rare sunny day in July. We are thankful to be here in such a paradise,
enchanted,  we watch the sunlight sparkle on waters of aquamarine

this is a color rarely seen – a translucent version of aquamarine
so pretty when it swirls, and suddenly,  there appear two killer whales,
azure skies, the brilliant sun, running waters, crystal ice, this is my paradise
and a dream come true – long have I waited to come to Alaska
to see blue ice glowing in the fissures of the glaciers
and marvel at the snow capped peaks of lofty, rugged mountains

beaches are fine, but take me to the mountains
especially those that surround waters of aquamarine,
crack! the sound echoes, as ice splits from the glaciers,
in the gold of the setting sun, the breach of a whale,
I’ll forever remember the unrestrained beauty – Alaska
has all the facets of a true paradise

I walk in the beauty of this wilderness paradise
where wisps of fog conceal the tops of the mountains,
the leaves strung with pearls of morning dew.  Of Alaska,
I’ll always remember that incredible shade of aquamarine
and that sound in the night – the exhaling  breath of a whale,
with those blue icebergs sailing by, spawned by the glaciers

despite their age, there is a fragile beauty in the glaciers,
which is woven in the fabric of this natural paradise,
I can hear it calling to me in the singing of the whales
as it  echoes through the canyons of the waiting mountains
and reflects in the waters of aquamarine
it’s a song of the wilderness,  – the song of Alaska

I came in search of whales, and the snow-capped mountains,
which rise in silhouette above the glacier icefields, in a paradise,
a dream taken form in aquamarine – Alaska.

Note: in the six stanzas of the sestina, six words are used to end each sentence, and they vary in  a precise order.  My words: glaciers, paradise, whales, mountains, Alaska, and aquamarine. In the final tercet 2 of the 6 words appear in each line, also set by a precise form.

Sunrise , Sunset at Sea (Haiku)

we watch the sun rise
light vanquishes the darkness
and color returns

the calm sea reflects
ribbons of orange and pink
we stand mesmerized

as the sun rises
it paints a path of gold light
for us to follow

as the sun lowers
bands of dark purple and blue
bruise the evening sky

rays of pale sunlight
reach out across the water
the sun bids farewell

we watch the sun set
the shades of night seep in
the sky veiled in gray

the calm sea darkens
a weary sun now at rest
color fades to black