Credit Where Credit’s Due

I recently read an article on the Instagram stories from Wit and Delight that made me think. “It was called “15 Things You Can Do Instead of Comparing Yourself to Others.” I won’t recap all that was in the article, but it’s definitely worth a read, especially if you are a writer or other artist who suffers from Imposter syndrome or doubts your talent or ability even a little bit.

Birches on my walks.

Imposter syndrome is all about comparing yourself to others, and the way I usually deal with it is to unplug from social media. Social media is a soul-sucking activity that leads to comparing myself and my life to the inaccurate idea that everyone else is successful, beautiful, and happy–oh, and by the way, also has a book coming out!

Another way I deal with surround myself with nature by walking or hiking, gardening, or exercising outdoors in all kinds of weather. I also associate with like-minded writers as much as possible so we can share our struggles and our unique perspective on writing and reading. This year, however, covid has made socializing difficult.

Two ideas to stop this kind of harmful comparison appeared in this article, and I believe they will become staples in my way of thinking because they resonated with me and made me think of myself differently and allowed me to think of all I’ve done in a different way. Those ideas? To think of yourself as a child and to reflect on something you did that’s all yours.

When I look back on myself as a child, I remember images and feelings mostly: playing in the creek behind my house, riding my bike with the wind in my face, stepping on sun-softened tar on the road on a hot summer day. But I also remember playing dress-up and Barbie, and spending literally hours drawing. In other words, I had a vivid imagination. I did what was fun or brought me joy and I wasn’t afraid to follow where my imagination led.

I know the little girl I was would look at me now in awe. She would marvel that I spend every morning at my computer writing. She would be amazed that I’ve finished one manuscript and had the courage to re-imagine the story and make it completely new. She’d also be amazed that I’ve had the patience, stamina, and drive to learn everything I can about writing and to practice and apply that knowledge along the way. I think she’d be proud of the writer I’ve become, and I intend to make sure she stays that way.

When I reflect on something I’ve done that’s all mine, I almost don’t know where to start. I’m proud of so many things. The following is just a short list.

  1. Following my heart in college to become an English major instead of a nurse.
  2. Being certain my “love-at-first-sight” feeling for my husband was absolutely correct–we just celebrated our 33rd anniversary at home with a piece of Godiva chocolate cheesecake. Covid can’t stop us!
  3. Holding down the home-front with a five-month-old baby while my husband was deployed during Desert Shield and Desert storm. My oldest son and I spent ten months being everything to each other.
  4. Leaving my hubby in charge of our two boys and a our dog to travel alone to London to meet my childhood friend for a four day trip. I cried on the plane, but that trip remains one of the most memorable times of my life.
  5. Going back to school when my husband left the military to become a high school English teacher.
  6. Volunteering to write curriculum for and teach a creative writing class the year my principal offered a creative writing class on distance learning. My class had more students who gave me good reviews, so I got to keep the class. It was my favorite thing to teach.
  7. Learning to write a novel. This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I know people think I should have published by now, and maybe I should have, but I wasn’t happy with my first effort. I’m working to make this first book as good as I can make it.
  8. Raising (read civilizing) two healthy, happy gentlemen. Although I had help with this one from my husband, I’m still prouder of my two sons than I am of anything else in the world. If I never publish a novel, I will have made my mark on this planet with those two fine children who are strong, kind, and open-minded.

Making this list was a great exercise to remind myself of what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished that is truly mine. I’m not an imposter. When I feel that way, it’s my insecurity talking. From now on, I’ll stop comparing myself to others. I’m going to give myself credit where credit is due. When I put my mind to anything, I can achieve all things. What do you need to give yourself credit for doing and creating? Be proud of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Grandpa Ott Morning Glory

You and Me and Us

If you’re missing summer already, as I am, Alison Hammer’s debut women’s fiction book, You and Me and Us, will let you live at the beach for a little while longer. This sweet story of a workaholic mom, a teen with issues, and the man who holds their family together–at least for awhile–will break your heart and put it back together by the end. Have a box of tissues ready!

This story, told with humor and compassion, is about Alexis Gold, a workaholic mom, who puts her business above everything else, including family. For years, she and her teenage daughter CeCe have depended on Tommy, CeCe’s dad and Alexis’s partner, to parent CeCe, which he does well. But he does everything well. Tommy is the rock CeCe and Alexis depend on to interpret their feelings and referee their disputes. He’s the peacemaker who holds their family together. Until his diagnosis with terminal cancer changes everything.

The only thing Tommy asks of Alexis is to spend his last summer in Destin, Florida, where they lived when they were twelve-year-old kids. Despite misgivings about leaving home for Destin, Alexis leaves her business in her partner’s hands and drives Tommy and CeCe to their beach house.

Problems inevitably arise as they wait for Tommy to pass away. Two of them are that Tommy’s ex lives nearby and CeCe doesn’t trust her mom, especially when CeCe falls for a local boy. Alexis and CeCe have to learn to depend less on Tommy and more on each other over the course of this heartbreaking but beautiful summer where love and forgiveness triumph in their lives.

Ultimately this is a love story, a coming of age story and a story of redemption and living life with no regrets. I laughed and cried through it all, especially the ending! If you haven’t read it yet, you should. You can find You and Me and Us here or, better yet, support your local bookseller. By the way, Alison has a new book coming out next year called Little Pieces of Me. Click the title to preorder from Amazon! Can’t wait to read it!!!

Sail On Silver Girl

Dogs have a way of wrapping themselves around our hearts. With their unbridled love for their people and the way they live their lives with boundless joy, they show us how to live. When they leave us, especially sooner than they should, they leave our hearts and our houses emptier than before they entered our lives.

Photo taken by Travis Anderson, @travshootsphotos in the field near our house.

I know this because our sweet Stella crossed the rainbow bridge a month ago. I’ve mourned her passing every day since. I still imagine her everywhere. When I pass her favorite swimming hole on my walks, when I get up in the morning and when I come home. I miss her greeting me as though I’d been gone forever. I miss her hugs, her heavy breathing when she hugged me, like she couldn’t get enough of the scent of her people. I miss her chasing after squirrels and rabbits and deer, except for a buck that wanted to make friends. I miss her beautiful athleticism, her silliness, and her happiness when she knew she’d pleased her family.

We adopted Stella during the Great Recession, a time when so much in our lives was changing–kids going to college, returning home to wait for jobs, and then leaving home for good, job losses and changes, and health challenges. We were lucky to have her during all that upheaval. She kept us grounded and reminded us that everything would be okay if we approached life the way she did. She loved us unconditionally through it all, gave our lives structure and purpose, and drew our focus away from our problems and sorrows.

Stella wearing her towel as a bonnet.

Our days revolved around caring for her: potty time, breakfast, water, potty again, naps, walks, begging, car rides, more naps, potty time, chuck-it sessions, swimming in the river, more naps, potty time, supper, naps, potty time, bedtime. Though she ate the same thing day after day, she loved her food. Greenies were her drug of choice, followed closely by sweet stems of tall grass in summer and deer candy. She loved her family, swimming, lying in the sunshine, sleeping by the fire in winter, running in the snow, going for walks, playing Chuck It, and presents: opening them at Christmas and wrapping them for Christmas!

Travis saying goodbye to Stella the first time he moved away.

As much as she loved some things, however, she hated others: rabbits, chipmunks, coyotes (which she growled at but kept her distance from), rotten things, and dead things. She wouldn’t have dreamed of rolling in disgusting, smelly things. She loved to be clean and sleep in a Tide-washed bed and freshly laundered collar. When I put her fluffy bed in her crate, she often tried to get in with me she was so excited. A more fastidious dog I’ve never met!

Before I found Stella, I was looking for a yellow, male Labrador, but her picture popped up on Petfinder.com. She was a silver Lab, and her name then was Misty. Ironically, my beloved childhood dog, a miniature schnauzer, was also named Misty, so I took that as a sign that she was meant for us.

Diving for rocks in the river.

Stella was spayed, had learned basic obedience skills, and could ring a bell to go outside. Why in the world would anyone surrender her? In her picture on the website, what tugged at my heart was that she looked scared and disoriented. She was. She didn’t understand why she was in that shelter. When we went to visit her, we found out her previous owners had given her up on her birthday. We took her home that day, before we had a bed, bowl, food, toys or anything else dog related. We stopped at Petco on the way home and bought what we needed.

This is her favorite blanket.

Despite having a nice bed, Stella made it her habit to sit next to me beside the sofa when I was reading or grading papers. Eventually, I put two blankets on the floor for her, each one given to her by her Grandma, Bruce’s mom. Stella’s favorite was a green and gold crocheted blanket. Stella was born here, so I guess deep in her heart she was a Packer fan. Speaking of her grandma, she loved Bruce’s mom Joslyn to death! Joslyn used to come to our house, open the door, and yell, “Hello!” When Stella heard that, she abandoned whatever she was doing and ran to the door to see Grandma!

Erik playing Chuck it, Stella’s favorite game!

When Stella first came to us, we had to break some of her bad habits. She was a jumper, and when people came over, she’d jump in excitement and nip at their faces. She also made herself at home on the furniture; dogs aren’t allowed to do that at our house. Once, shortly after we brought her home, I found her lying between my pillow and Bruce’s on our bed–with her butt on my pillow! She also didn’t walk well on a leash, and when we walked her, she tried to chase cars.

My husband deserves the credit for teaching her to behave in the early days because he spent every day with her while he was laid off and the kids and I were at school. They walked for hours in all sorts of weather. We taught her to chase balls (which wasn’t hard since she was a retriever.) She swam in the river, patrolled the yard, barked for hours at each corner of the yard to claim her territory, and learned that our home was her home and that we were her family.

Silly Stella!

She had so much ENERGY! Once when we let her out to do her business, she saw some deer and chased them all through the woods surrounding our house. We called and called, but she was having too much fun to heed our voices. As she chased them, distant barks reached echoed through the woods. When she tired of the game a couple of hours later, she came home, muddy and exhausted, but happy, her tongue lolling out of her mouth.

She was a beautiful girl.

She loved water, swimming in the river behind our house, and diving for rocks. I don’t know how she managed to hold her breath, but she stayed underwater until she found a rock she wanted to bring us to throw. After working in the yard in summer, my husband and I often took her to the river to swim, while we cooled off in our swimsuits. Our favorite spot has big boulders for us to sit on and that Stella sat on when she was tired.

By the river, her domain.

Although Stella loved water, she didn’t care for a bath. Until it was over. She adored her towel, and seeing the towel made her frisky, especially when she was a puppy. Once when I was drying her off, she bit down on one end of the towel, snatched it from my hands, and took off running around the yard. When my husband saw her heading straight for him, he jumped onto a big boulder in our yard. She banked off the rock, and headed straight back toward me at full speed. It was like that scene in Peanuts when Snoopy grabbed Linus’s blanket and charged around with it. My husband and I laughed so hard, we were crying. Stella loved it! She loved when we were happy, and we loved seeing the big smile on her face and her wagging tail.

One of many hugs I’ll miss.

Now that some time has passed my memories of our sweet Stella bring me more comfort than pain. I miss her every day, and occasionally I’m blindsided by grief, but that just proves what a great dog she was. She had a big heart, but even such a strong dog couldn’t kick cancer. As much as we wanted her to be with us forever, we have to learn to live without her. Nothing replaces a dog when it comes time for them to leave. Losing their companionship unconditional love is difficult to bear, and no matter when it happens, it happens far too soon.

Stella adoring Bruce while hiking in the state park.

When we said goodbye to Prairie Dawn, our chocolate Lab, I thought my heart would break in two. I waited three years to find another dog because I thought no dog could possibly be as wonderful as Prairie Dawn had been. I was wrong. When we said goodbye to Stella, she took a good chunk of all our hearts with her. I’m not sure I can have another dog; it’s too hard to say goodbye. Besides, I’m positive no other dog could be as sweet and loving as Stella was.

When we adopted her, we gave her a second chance at being part of a family. She came to us when we needed her, and what she gave us was her great big, energetic heart and all the love and joy and sweetness it held. For ten years, our family was lucky to have her and to learn the lessons in loving that only a dog can teach. Sail on, my silver girl. We love you, forever and ever.

Goodbye, my sweet girl.

Service and Sacrifice

Now and then my husband reflects on the military friends he’s lost. Most of them I knew only from stories he told me of things they did or said. He remembers everything, but what I remember most about his time in the U.S. Marine Corps was his deployment to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and the things that happened during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

HMM-164 1990-1991, USS Okinawa, My husband in the fourth one back from the first man on the left.

There’s no equivalent to saying goodbye to someone who is leaving for a military deployment. It’s hard to explain what it feels like if you’ve never served or never loved someone who has. On the day Bruce left I felt pride mixed with fear, insecurity, and uncertainty, but mostly love and a fervent hope he’d come home safely.

Bruce and I have talked about his time in the military. He misses it because he had a mission, and it gave his life purpose. He served something greater than himself. His service gave me that also, but these days I don’t miss it, especially at Memorial Day. Because I know I’m one of the lucky ones. My husband came back. What I feel now is gratitude.

Left to right: Bruce, JT, Pinkie, Nozzle and

I still remember holding my baby son in May of 1990 and standing beside the helicopter carrier, , helicopters, to say goodbye to Bruce for what we thought would be a routine six month deployment. He left in May and was to be home by Christmas, my son’s first. Our son was five months old. Bruce didn’t return for ten months. His Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) was the first to go to the Persian Gulf and the last to come home.

Bruce beside a CH-46, somewhere in the Philippines.

Back then we lived in California, far from my family, and I was alone with a five month old baby. That was a time of long-distance phone calls, film cameras, and daily newspapers. CNN was brand new, the first 24 hour news channel. The only source of communication between my husband and me were letters and packages sent across the miles. Sometimes they arrived in order, sometimes not. Sometimes they got dropped in the ocean.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Our son, wearing a flight suit made by Gramma Josie, while Dad was deployed.

While Bruce was deployed, I became an active member of the HMM-164 “wives’ club.” We were all lonely, and as usual in times when people are tested by shared uncertainty and fear, (rather like now) we grew close. We protected each other when we could and shared each other’s grief when we couldn’t. We operated a phone tree and distributed whatever news needed to be spread the old fashioned way–by phone. When bad news came, we supported each other.

In early October, bad news came. I don’t remember what time I received the call, but I remember the words. “There’s been a mishap. Two helicopters are missing. They can’t find the crews.” I remember how I felt. Stunned there had been a crash, then grateful because I knew my husband was safe, then guilty and heartbroken because someone I knew had lost a loved one. They would receive a visit.

This is what happened. “At approximately 0415 on 8 October 1990, two UH-1N helicopters from HMM-164 launched from the USS Okinawa for an “at sea NVG [Night Vision Goggle] training operation” off the coast of Oman [North Arabian Sea].  At approximately 0513 the two helicopters disappeared from radar and failed to respond to radio calls.  Observers on the flight deck saw a ball of fire dropping into the sea.  Search efforts recovered very little wreckage and no sign of aircrew.  All were declared missing at sea.  The eight men aboard were considered the first casualties of Operation Desert Shield.
The eight aircrew were:
Capt W. Cronin
Capt G. Dillon
Capt K. Dolvin
Capt W. Hurley
Sgt K Keller
Sgt J Kilkus
Cpl T Romei
L/Cpl T. Adams”

I didn’t know until later that Captain William Hurley slept in the rack above my husband’s, that they knew each other, joked with each other, laughed together, shared pork rinds and packages from home. He was from the Chicago area like my husband, and according to a Chicago Tribune article, his sister said that he admired the marriage his parents had and that he “hoped one day he could be to someone what they`d been to each other all these years.”

Captain William Hurley, USMC

While the men were still deployed, a memorial was held on base for the families of these men. I’ve never attended anything that so affected me before or since.

I’ve been forever grateful for my husband’s survival all these years. Before we married, my pastor counseled me that my husband was the kind of man who, if he wasn’t flying helicopters for a living, would be racing cars or riding motorcycles or pursuing some other dangerous occupation. In fact, 10 of the 52 pilots in his squadron have since died from plane crashes, only two of them civilian crashes.

Those men were good people. People who join the military are the best kind of people–they are heroes who run toward trouble to keep the rest of us safe. They didn’t want to die. But they also knew every single day that dying was a possibility.

Welcome home parade in Orange County

My husband thinks of those men, especially Bill, his roommate on the ship, every year. Rarely does he say anything. That’s not his way. But occasionally he’ll remember something about his days aboard the Okinawa, and he’ll share snippets with me. I know he thinks of them and others who’ve passed away and left their families behind.

Inspired by History

To research the setting for my historical novel, my husband and I took a long weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina several years ago. Since I’m from the South, I was anticipating uncomfortably hot, humid weather and lots of snakes as we traipsed around historic plantations in July, but amazingly, we arrived during a spell of comfortable temperatures and low humidity. I took it as a sign that my research would go well.

Fleet Landing, Charleston

While in Charleston, we enjoyed drinks at Fleet Landing, a place my husband still waxes poetic about when I mention the place, and had lunch on the patio at 82 Queen. Sometimes I still dream of the she crab soup I ate there. I do miss the seafood down south!

Camellia japonica “Reine des Fleurs”

We also visited the spectacular Middleton Place. The original main house and the north flanker were burned by Union troops in 1865, but the gardens are magnificent! In 1786, the French botanist and explorer, André Michaux gave the Middletons a house gift of camellias, the first to be grown in an American garden. One of the cultivars he gave them, Camellia japonica “Reine des Fleurs” is pictured above. In my book, there is also a camellia garden.

Drayton Hall the way it looked in 1869

The place where my imagination took flight and the experience of walking the land and entering the house made a lasting impression on me, however, was Drayton Hall, once a plantation on the Ashley River but which is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was built during colonial times on the Ashley River and has stood through the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In fact, it was the only plantation house on the Ashley River not destroyed by Union troops. It has even survived hurricanes and earthquakes. Yes, Charleston has earthquakes.

Until the 1970s Drayton Hall was owned by the Drayton family, the same people who built the plantation and lived and worked at Drayton Hall, but another family, the Bowens, lived and worked there even longer than the Draytons. Their history parallels that of the Draytons. They came to the U.S. from Barbados and lived and worked at Drayton Hall. Mr. Richmond Bowen was the last of them. He worked as the gatekeeper and unofficial historian. Through his legacy, the work of enslaved people and their sacrifices were recognized in the African American cemetery and history at Drayton Hall.

The beautiful Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall so captured my imagination that I decided to loosely base the location in my novel on it. I use elements from other places and earlier times, including putting a spring house and chapel on the grounds, similar to the one at Middleton Place. In short, I weave history into my story and blur the lines of what’s real and imagined as many writers do.

Middleton Place spring house( below) and chapel (above)

Despite River Oaks being inspired by Drayton Hall, the events in my book are products of my imagination. They are rooted in history and inspired by the research I’ve done on phosphate mining on the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, the grounds of Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, and Charleston during Reconstruction. I also fudge the years things happen to suit my story.

Phosphate mining at Drayton Hall

I often feel overwhelmed when I think of trying to capture the essence of this area, the time, and the people who might have lived and loved there, but when I do, I remember why history, especially Southern history, fascinates me.

People like the Draytons and the Bowens have weathered wars, poverty, hunger, disease, and other tragedies, but somehow have survived to remain rooted in the South for over two hundred years. Why is that? Why not move on to better places? That is what I contemplate as I write this book. Why does this place, any place, mean so much?

Southerners are the only people who’ve lost a war on American soil, and Southerners, black and white, had to rebuild their lives and reconcile their losses. I’m awed at their survival and determination to make a life when their way of life was gone. I think more than anything, that is what drives the story I’m writing. I hope my book will in a small way do their struggle justice.

THE END Is Near

I’m near the end of my manuscript…again. Several years ago, I completed the original manuscript, work-shopped it at a conference, revised it with two other writers, and started the query process to find an agent. So this is the second time I’ve approached THE END, and I can’t tell you how ready I am to finish this book and send it out into the world for the second time.

The idea for this book, which I call FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS, came to me years ago during a class I took called How to Teach Creative Writing. That was back when I was taking classes to renew my teaching license. Each of us each took turns coming up with lessons for the class. When it was my friend Elizabeth’s turn to teach , she handed us cards from the 1970s board game Masterpiece.

The card she handed me, Paris Street, Rainy Day by the French Impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte, sparked my original idea, but since then, the story has evolved–as stories do–so that almost nothing remains of that original idea. When I queried agents, I had requests for partials and a few requests for full manuscripts, but no one fell in love with my book the way I’d hoped. Before I sent the full manuscript to an agent I thought would be a perfect fit for FAITH, I sent it to an editor for a critique.

To make a long, painful story short, the editor absolutely hated my story and advised me to completely rewrite it and change everything. Devastated, I put the book away for about a year. When I could look at her critique without feeling hopeless and angry, I examined her advice and found nuggets I could use. I’ve spent the last year or so re-imagining plot, character, and point of view. Now, FAITH is almost ready to go out into the world with a more thoughtful and well-organized plot, deeper characterization, and dual points of view.

After attending a webinar with Abigail Perry through Women’s Fiction Writers Association I’ve been studying the Story Grid universe as a tool for revision and scene analysis. Once I understand Value shift so I can complete the Story Grid foolscap for my manuscript, I’ll have a blue print to stick to as I write the 15,000 more words until THE END. I’m almost there. Stay tuned…

Down a Delicious Writing Research Rabbit Hole

A couple of days ago, I was working on my book, which is historical women’s fiction set in 1868 Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a tough era to write about because not much detail about the way people lived during that time is readily available. To find what I’m looking for, I’ve discovered I have to go at it obliquely because so much of what I find out is buried in within other history.

That’s what happened when I was looking for a map of Charleston in 1868. What I ran across was this map of White Point Gardens in 1874. My two characters were strolling along the flagstones of the Battery, a seaside promenade, and I wondered what they would see where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet. So I started searching and found something I hadn’t known about. At the time I’m writing about, there was a two-story bath house connected to the peninsula via a footbridge. How cool is that!

View of the bath house before it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1874. Picture from the Preservation Society of Charleston

The public bathhouse had two floors, the first was the bath house, and on the upper floor was a cake and ice cream shop! Interesting for sure, but that information only made me curious to know what sort of cakes that shop might have served–just in case my characters decided to have dessert there.

I found some interesting cakes, one of which I plan to make. It’s called demon cake, a dense cake made with molasses, ginger, apples, brandy, and lots of spices. It’s just the sort of thing I love in fall. Here’s a picture of it from Food 52, one of my favorite cooking blogs. If you click the link, you’ll go to the recipe.

Demon Cake from Food 52

I also found out that Linzer torte is said to be the oldest cake in the world and is named after the city of Linz in Austria. Although the cake shop might have served Linzer torte, I believe it would have served more Southern fare, like pound cake and something called muster cake, which is now known by its more modern name of Election Cake and has the distinction of being the first American food associated with politics. Don’t know if that’s good or bad! You can read the fascinating history of that cake in the link above.

Election Cake (muster cake) photo from Food 52 and taken by James Ransom

The day I did this research I had a hard time not dropping everything to make one of thee cakes. I love baking. It has always been a huge stress reliever for me, and right now with covid19 still such a disruption, I really had to exercise self-control and keep my butt in the chair to make my writing goal for the day.

I wish I could say I do all my research BEFORE I start writing, but something always crops up that I need to know. I could put in a marker as some people recommend and do the research after I’ve written the scene, but that’s not how I roll. My curiosity gets the better of me and the details can sometimes change how the scene I’m writing unfolds, so I often research as I write. When I find out fascinating information like the above, I struggle to go back to my book!

Pirates Attack!

Today on a Facebook writing group I participate in, the moderator asked us to share some fun or funny lines from our WIPs. My books is rather serious, but there are some fun passages. The lines I chose today are part of a scene that includes two little boys playing pirate with Josiah Hamilton, the love interest of my main character. These little boys, Hank and Lawson, remind me of my own boys when they were little.

In the scene, Josiah Hamilton, the love interest of my heroine, goes to his best friend Henry’s house to ask Henry’s wife Charlotte a favor. Before Josiah even makes it to the piazza, the boys ambush him. What follows is from page 191 of my unpublished historical women’s fiction, Faith Can Move Mountains. Enjoy!

“Josiah was deep in thought before he reached the piazza of Henry and Charlotte’s house. As he set foot on the step, Hank and Lawson launched themselves at him and wrapped themselves around each of Josiah’s legs.

“Aargh, me hearty!” said Hank in a gravelly voice. “You be my prisoner now!” Hank wore a big smile framed on either side by deep dimples. His stick straight dark hair reached nearly to his dark brown eyes, one of which was covered by a blue serge eye patch.

“Suwender or we make you walk the Pwank!” Lawson’s face framed by ruddy curls was flushed and dewed with sweat. At three years old, he was fierce in his role as first mate to his brother, the captain of their pirate ship.

Josiah assumed his customary role as a privateer. “Unhand me, you brigands!” he bellowed. Then he began to walk up the stairs to the piazza with the boys attached to his legs as he climbed the stairs. They squealed and giggled as he stepped.

Henry stepped out onto the piazza. “Captain Hank, we’ve discussed this. You may not waylay visitors to my ship unless I give you permission.”

“But, Papa, he hathn’t paid the toll yet,” whined Lawson.

Josiah slapped his forehead. “I forgot the toll, but maybe I have something.”

Hank and Lawson let go of Josiah’s legs and stood looking up at him. “What did you bring?” Hank asked. He removed his eye patch to see better while Lawson pushed his hair out of his eyes.

“Let me see.” Josiah frowned and made a show of checking his pants and waistcoat pockets. “Ah! Now I remember where I put them.” He reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out two, small, paper-wrapped packages. “Will these do?”

The boys each took one, but Hank was the first to get his open. “Gum drops!”

Hopes for Covid19 Aftermath

Although right now the pandemic that is covid19 feels like it will never end, I’ve been trying to figure out the good I want to remember from this unprecedented event in world history. I’m still learning and making sense of what is happening, but some things have caught my attention, and I’ve thought, “Yes! I hope people will remember this when this thing is over.” Here are some of them. I’d love to know others you’ve thought of.

  • Teaching children is hard work and those who do it well should be richly rewarded. Any time people are skilled in their professions, they make what they are doing look effortless. Teachers are the same. The effort is hidden beneath preparation and years of training and practice. Teaching is a science, yes, but it’s also an art. Good teachers are worth their weight in gold as many parents are finding out.
  • Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are underappreciated in the best of times and heroic, brave, and selfless in the worst of times. Don’t let anyone tell you that the government rather than private practice doctors should be in charge of our healthcare. Doctors spend years learning how to practice medicine. They know what is possible and what isn’t. They know which patients will benefit from particular treatments. They also have the knowledge to try new (or old) treatments to see whether they work. Can you imagine the governmental bureaucracy that would have kept the experimental therapies doctors are using to treat covid19 from being used? I sure can! Take a moment and thank God for all our health professionals.
  • Social media should be used for social connection and not for politics or tearing one another down. Can we make Facebook and Instagram fun, uplifting, and supportive places forever? During covid19, people have been witty, creative, and generally excellent to each other, and I, for one, have loved it!
  • People should always stay home from school, work, and worship if they are sick. If people stayed home for even minor colds, those who are vulnerable wouldn’t die from complications from viruses like the flu or the common cold or the novel corona virus we’re dealing with now. What is merely a nuisance for healthy people can become deadly for those with underlying conditions. Companies should remember this and offer PTO with this in mind.
  • We shouldn’t let work be the focus of our lives. Work is a gift from God that allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but it can never replace our relationships with our families and friends. Work life balance was just a phrase before this virus. I hope it becomes a reality. Just because people can work from anywhere, doesn’t mean we should.
  • Walks–preferably outside–improve our health. Nature is a natural stress reducer. Just take a look at what this article from the American Heart Association says, “Whatever you call it – forest bathing, ecotherapy, mindfulness in nature, green time or the wilderness cure — humans evolved in the great outdoors, and your brain benefits from a journey back to nature.
  • Family and friends make life worth living. Full stop. Call your mom, your grandmother, your dad, your grandfather, your friend from childhood or high school you’ve lost touch with, or whoever you hold dear. Get in touch. Life is fragile and precious and lovely and meant to be shared.

We haven’t reached the peak of covid19 infections in the United States yet, but we’re all in this together. If you’re feeling sad, reach out to those you love or to the health professionals in your area or to a clergy member. They will help. In the meantime, know that you are a child of God and that you are loved.

Coping during Covid19

I’m sitting at my desk at the start of week 3 of the Safer at Home order in Wisconsin. Apart from an underlying uneasiness of this virus making its way into our towns and cities, being isolated and dealing with the unknown feels familiar. To be honest, the first two weeks of staying at home didn’t bother me too much. Many people don’t cope well when they’re isolated and can’t enjoy an active social and work life, but over the past 11 years, I’ve become used to those things.

At the beginning of the Great Recession, my husband lost his job and has been laid off five times since 2009. During that time, I was a public school teacher and was also laid off because of declining enrollment. We had two children in college, house payments, taxes, insurance, car payments, and many other expenses. To survive, we tightened our belts and learned to do without things that we had once taken for granted.

Now, all these years later, I’m working from home as a Beautycounter consultant, and he has once again been laid off. It seems like the uncertainty and layoffs will never end, and the worst part is coping with the unknown. When will he get another job? Will we have enough in our emergency fund to tide us over? How long will this time last? Now that the virus has become a reality, we’re all coping with those same questions.

If security seems like a thing of the past to you too because you’ve been laid off or closed your business because of Covid19, I’d like to help you think about ways to save money and maybe change your perspective from one of lack to one of possibilities and action. Here are some of the things that my family has done over the past ten years and will continue to do to get us through hard times.

Learn to cook from scratch. It’s better, cheaper, and healthier than going to restaurants. How? Crack open cookbooks or look on the internet for recipes, especially ones you can stretch with potatoes or rice. Cooking is a matter of following directions. If you can do that, you can cook most anything! And cooking is a great outlet for creativity! The recipe below is from Half Baked Harvest!

Homemade coconut milk braised chicken with naan from Aldi!

Pick up the sale flyers from your grocery store and plan your menus for a week or longer. To be as healthy as possible, avoid the aisles of packaged food and buy fresh produce, meat, and frozen foods that you can turn into recipes. I like to prepare big batches of soup, chili, barbecue, pot roast, and other things that freeze well. Use fresh foods that will spoil easily first.

Buy different items at different stores (use the information from the sale flyers to help you). For example, I often buy fruits, vegetables, olive oil, spices, and cheeses at Aldi. They have lots of organic foods and often their regular produce is cheaper than at other stores. If you drink milk, their half gallon organic whole milk is delicious! Make sure you check Aldi’s special buys too. They are often on clearance.

Get rid of cable TV. We have an antenna for TV or stream shows from the internet when we want to watch movies or other shows. Streaming offers many more shows than cable anyway. I also have come to love our local PBS stations. They offer commercial free watching and British television like Masterpiece Theater!

Homegrown radishes from my garden

Plant a garden. Plant flowers in pots, window boxes, or the ground. They bring butterflies, bees, and beauty into your life. Or grow your own vegetables! Eating what you grow is rewarding and far better than what you can buy at the supermarket. If you’ve never eaten a homegrown carrot, you’re missing out! If you don’t want to garden or can’t for some reason, make friends with your local farmers. Many offer CSAs or sell at farmers’ markets. They are happy to give you suggestions for how to cook unfamiliar vegetables too!

Be creative with your wardrobe by shopping your closet or thrift stores and learn to wear what you’ve already got in new ways. If you can’t afford to buy a whole new outfit, maybe you can buy a scarf or new earrings to make older shirts or dresses feel new. Also learn to mend what you have and keep your items fresh and clean. This includes shoes. If you’re really ambitious and crafty, teach yourself to sew or knit or crochet.

Make your own cleaning products. It’s easier on your wallet and the environment, especially when you have a septic system. To kill corona virus, however, you need to use something proven to kill the virus.

Use the internet to learn new skills such as meditation, yoga (I recommend Cole Chance Yoga and Yoga TX), cooking, sewing, or gardening. Also watch Khan Academy videos and Ted Talks, or listen to podcasts. They will keep you informed and busy learning something new and just might help you with home-schooling your children.

Exercise, especially outside! Go for lots of walks and reacquaint yourselves with nature. Being in nature is a stress reliever. As John Muir once said, ““And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

Summer in Wisconsin

Rediscover board games and learn to play cards. Play with your families! If you don’t know how to play cards, you can find tutorials on the internet.

Read some great books! There are so many I have read and want to read. Here are a few. The first two I’m looking forward to reading. The last three I’ve already read. You and Me and Us by my friend Alison Hammer, Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes by my friend Kathleen West, The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell (there are about ten in the series and the series is The Last Kingdom on Netflix), A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer and its sequel, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti, and anything by Katherine Center.

Use Facetime, Skype, What’s App, Google Duo or learn Zoom so you can meet with your family or friends for a virtual happy hour or for morning coffee. It makes the distance melt away when you can see each other in real time and talk.

Zooming with writer friends!

If you’re religious, or even if you’re not, trust that God will help you through this! Because He will. Tune in to services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waupaca, WI or any other church that is broadcasting services right now. It helps to know that you can count on a higher power in times of stress and anxiety.

This virus won’t last forever, even though it seems like it will. There are many smart people who are working as we speak to invent a vaccine or reliable treatments for us, and isn’t that a wonder. Selfless doctors and nurses are taking care of people made helpless by this thing. There are too many people to count or name who are helping others in this crisis. I’m thankful for all of them.

I hope you can change your thinking from having to stay home to getting to stay home. I hope you’ll discover how creative and resourceful you can be as you keep your family safe. I hope you’ll keep a journal so that you and your children can look back one day and remember how you endured this pandemic with grace and strength. Before you know it, we’ll be buying normal amounts of toilet paper and canned soup at grocery stores and going out to dinner with friends. Until then, stay safe at home, rediscover how much you love your families, and read some great books!

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