Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Surprisingly Connected

In the beginning, I was sure isolation would take its toll on my well-being. I like people. I was a bit anxious how I would connect with my friends and family, but like most people I know I am reaping unexpected benefits from having to think outside the box.

During the first or second week of the shelter at home order in the state of Ohio, one of my daughters initiated a game of Farkle. We each rounded up our own dice.  (Don’t tell, but I had to rob a couple of board games to make it work.) We played, talked, and laughed via Face Time. I kept score as we played. Danielle, the middle of my three girls opted to not play, but was “present” for the fun. And, yes, it was fun. Time well spent. People living in five different houses playing together, yet it felt as if we were all in the same room. So much so that later that evening my mother started to check to make sure she locked the front door after her company left. It was that real. 

Now, since my oldest daughter found a free game spot online where we could design our own cards and games, we’ve enjoyed playing Backstreet Rummy or Baseball together. We still use our phones and Face Time to talk smack and share bits and pieces of our lives, but the connections do more than determine a winner. In fact we are all winners. We are connected. Even my granddaughter is getting in on the game of Baseball and has a running game with her great grandmother and me. Pretty cool. 

My oldest granddaughter read a chapter from the Boxcar Children to my mom every evening until they came to the end of the book. I don’t think that would have happened if it had not been for this time of isolation. My youngest granddaughter has read several picture books to me. It turns out you’re never too old to enjoy a good bedtime story.

But it is not all technology stuff. There was an Easter egg hunt in my backyard while fully acknowledging social distancing. And I’ve chatted with other family members face-to-face with our faces more than six feet apart. I dropped in on my mom one day and we enjoyed the sunshine on her deck while we visited. 

One of my grandsons in Wisconsin wrote me a letter. A real, honest-to-goodness pencil and paper letter! I’m not sure when I last received a hand written letter. It was great. So I wrote back to him.

And I generally get to see my oldest daughter once or twice a week. She has designated herself as my personal shopper. She picks up groceries for both my mother and me. I don’t know if she will ever know how much that means to us.

Of course I miss the hugs, but the intentional connections prove to be powerful reminders that we are in this together.

I knew when I moved into this house, it was a good neighborhood. My immediate neighbors…those closest physically to me…were warm and welcoming. Many of my neighbors work and lead busy lives. Until now. 

The weather has been ideal for walking. I’ve enjoyed getting my steps in on these bright sunny days. In doing so, I’ve met more neighbors than ever. 

There’s the sweet little family from Paris with the new baby. Their two older children wave to me, their new “ami,” when we meet on the road. They like it that I practice my French with them. And the family from Macedonia who live around the corner like to talk with me about my experiences in Kosovo.

Then there’s the family who likes to golf. We’ve had good conversations about the sport. He works for the Parks Department. Who knew? 

I’ve met people as they walk or as they are working in their yards and gardens. I’ve met them as they sit on their porch and I admire the sidewalk art displayed by their children. I’ve chatted with people I never knew before about the weather, their cute babies, their dogs and their flowers. We talk about many things. Except the pandemic. Perhaps that’s why it feels so healthy. So good.

And…I went to a “block party.” It was a "bring your own beverage, bring your own chair, and sit in your own space" affair. There I met several neighbors I did not know at all. We laughed and shared stories. We solved several major issues in the world. We had fun. 

I came home from that party and made a map of my neighborhood. Now, whenever I meet new people, I write their names on the map. It’s a rather crude, absolutely not to scale drawing. For those of you who have seen my handwriting, you’ll understand when I say I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who can decode it. 

But I value the map because I value the people.
I want to remember them.
I want to stay connected.

What are you doing to stay in touch with others?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

These Times: Finding that Pioneer Spirit

When this period of isolation started, I decided to sew some masks for members of my family. I pulled out my sewing machine and reacquainted myself with it. I haven’t sewn anything in a long time.

I found some remnants of cotton in my sewing bin. All of the elastic I had in my stash was too wide to fit around someone’s ear. I knew I could make it fit around the head, but threw out the idea as only a last resort. In the end, I found stretchy elastic string-type headbands. They worked great, even if some of them were pink with sparkles.

All was going well until I ran out of cotton fabric. The recommendation is for 100% pure cotton. Hmmm…. in another world….another time, I would have hopped in my car and picked some fabric up at the craft store. Ordering online would delay my sewing by days.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s people had a similar situation. Things they needed weren’t always available when they needed them. I’ve heard my grandmother recite this poem:

Use it up, wear it out.
Make it do, or do without.

What would my grandma do now?

I went to my closet. I had a couple of shirts made of 100% cotton. I chose the one I rarely wear, cut it up and finished my project. A much better use of that shirt than merely hanging in my closet.

Not long after I finished sewing the much-needed masks, I settled into the new routine of staying home. I was determined to embrace this time of quiet creatively. I wanted to sketch and paint, but couldn’t find all of my supplies. My stash of pencils consisted of three broken ones and about a dozen short, eraser-less pencils culled from the depths of my golf bag.

I knew Tom had an electric pencil sharpener. Somewhere. I located it in a box of office supplies along with a few new, unsharpened pencils. I plugged the heavy thing in. It hummed as if it wanted to do something but wouldn’t sharpen the pencil. I checked the plastic bin for shavings, thinking perhaps it was full. Nothing. Phooey! 

I searched the box to see if perhaps there were any of the plastic sharpeners we used to send with the girls to school. Nothing.

I could have given up or maybe whittled the wood away from the lead with a knife, but by this time, I was on a mission. I studied the bulky electric sharpener, grabbed a Phillips head screwdriver from the kitchen drawer and took the thing apart. 

One of Tom’s strategies was to take things apart that weren’t working and see what was going on inside. Sometimes, when he couldn’t find anything wrong, he’d put it back together and it would work! “Must have been some dust in there or something,” he’d say. 

The air conditioner? Took it apart and put it back together. It worked for two more years before we replaced it.

The washing machine? Took it apart and put it back together. It lasted another ten years.

I looked at the insides of the pencil sharpener. I took a brush and dusted it off. I couldn’t see anything wrong, so I put the thing back together. 

It works.

What is my point in all this? We are living through a time such as we have never seen before. It may be frustrating to not have everything at our fingertips. It may be challenging to “make do,” to not be able to jump in our car and buy something new at every turn. 

During this season of our lives, we need to tap into our creative problem solving skills, try new things and fix old ones. We need to reassess what we have and how we make it work for us. We need to look in our pantry and come up with new recipes or in our closet and find new uses for old clothes. 

And we can do it. There rests in each of us a pioneer spirit. It’s the spirit that has made our nation strong.

How are you coping? What have you discovered about yourself during this pandemic? What problems have you creatively solved? 

And for a great read (both fun and informative...Rob King is a fantastic speaker and teacher) about the Spirit God offers as our helper you will be interested in this book: The Spirit Within by Rob King and Eric Ferris. I highly recommend it.

CLICK HERE for more info on the book. I know both of these authors. You will love this book!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Flirting, Dating, & Getting Engaged

I realize the title of this post sounds a bit risqué for a Christian author. It is, however, to the point. As writers we think of ourselves as isolated word wizards, hammering away, trying to capture the stories we see playing out in our heads. We envision handing our precious manuscripts over to a wise and caring publisher who reads every word we have written. Our dream is that our words paint such a memorable and vivid picture, the creative juices of our publishing team will pour everything they have into fashioning our great work into a book and marketing it with pizazz. Get real.

Today’s author needs to think about more than writing. Part of the author’s job is to market the book. For many, marketing means advertising, maintaining a presence on social media, arranging book signings, and speaking engagements. Todays post looks at the book itself and what you as an author can do beforethe book is published to garner the attention of your audience. 

As in any relationship, there are various stages. Put yourself in the place of the reader.
Flirting: Think about it. You pick up a book, take a look at the cover and turn the book over. You read the back cover and see if you're interested in investing in this relationship. As an author you need to give attention to the design of the book cover. Will you have total control over this? Probably not, but you willhave a say. What feel do you want your book to have? Are there colors or textures you think connect to your story? Think about the cover as you write the book. Fiction or non-fiction-both require a compelling cover.

You also need to write the copy for the back cover. This may be harder to write than your book. It is, after all, the ultimate pick-me-up line.

Another way authors flirt with their readers is by posting quotes from their books on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. These teasers don’t give away the story, but hint at the possibilities. Begin posting these quotes about a month prior to your release date.

Dating: This is the getting-to-know-you-a-bit-better stage. Some authors do that by sending out excerpts, a first chapter, or offering potential readers a synopsis. When you do this, be sure to refer to your work by its title or as “the book” instead of “my book.” No one wants to remain in a relationship with a narcissistic author.

Since Breathing on Her Own was my debut novel, I decided to offer a sort of “blind date” to potential readers. I wrote four short pieces for the blog A Novel Creation. These stories introduced readers to my characters a month prior to the book release. To view a sample of one of these stories, click on this story about Travis and Molly.

And since viewing these stories was something of a “blind date,” I pitched in on part of the “tab.” Readers were encouraged to share the post and email me with how they did that. I drew a name each week and one lucky reader received a $5 gift card to Starbucks. I think the dating game was successful. My blog views doubled the first week and new readers subscribed. Growth continued in the following weeks. I’ve had readers of the book tell me they first met characters through the blog and one reader was trying to remember if “the McDonald’s story was part of the novel or not.”

Getting Engaged: Okay, if you are a reader, you reach a point where you're ready to commit to this relationship. You buy the book or download it on your Kindle or Nook. You need to see how this story plays out. For writers this is the moment you have dreamed of all your writing life.  You want your readers to come to you on bended knee. Or at least with your book in hand. And if he should offer a review? Break out the sparkling grape juice. This one’s a keeper. 

Hmm…maybe I should consider a romance novel. At least I have a few of the pieces in place.
The book, Breathing on Her Own, is the story of a woman coming face-to-face with her crumbling faith when she learns her adult daughter, driving under the influence, has had an accident, leaving one woman dead and another seriously injured. 

Note to Readers: 
This has been a tough week. My cousin lost her husband to COVID-19. I must admit my heart was not in my writing. I originally crafted this offering as a guest post for the Book Loft in 2014.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Getting Through This Together...Apart (or Why Retirees Know How to Handle This Season of Our Lives)

The pandemic we know as the coronavirus, COVID-19, is a worldwide health concern. The effects are far reaching. My prayers are with those who have contracted the virus as well as their families. 

It is a difficult time. For all of us.

Most of us are practicing “social distancing.” For those who live alone it is a time of forced isolation. Isolation, quarantine, or social distancing comes with potential pitfalls and maybe, just maybe, a few benefits.

Stay with me here. This is not my typical post.

Let’s start with a little deliberate self-care. A friend of mine complained to me on the phone that she was fatigued. She couldn’t understand why. “I know I’m getting enough sleep,” she said. “In fact, I’ve been sleeping in now that I don’t have to be anywhere.” It turns out she’s been staying in her pajamas the whole day and napping in the afternoon. (Okay, I’ll admit as a teenager I used to dream of days like that.)

This brings us to the point of deliberate self-care. During this time of isolation follow these steps for good physical and mental health:
·      Establish a routine. Get up and go to bed at regular hours and keep to your schedule.
·      Establish something that occurs weekly to help you remember what day it is…seriously. For example, I “go to church” (online) on Sundays. 
·      Eat right and exercise. Get outside and walk or break out those weights you bought on a whim and put them to work.

And these next two are extremely important:
·      Before you go to bed each evening, list two to three tasks you’d like to complete the following day.
·      When you get up in the morning, get dressed…and don’t forget to put on your shoes. Curiously enough, putting on your shoes is a “step” in the right direction. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) There really is a psychological benefit to putting your shoes on each morning.

Once I’m up and dressed, I have my breakfast while I read my Bible. I review the list I made the night before and I enter the day with a sense of purpose.

Most of the physical and mental I’ve put into practice for years. It was part of learning to manage retirement.

There is more. Taking care of ourselves physically and mentally is good, but we also need to take care of our emotional and social well being. I’m offering these ideas. Feel free to try one or more as you like:
Easter Egg Hunt 2020

Miss seeing your family and friends?
·      Phone calls are great, but changing to a video chat is more satisfying. You can use an app on your phone or a free computer application such as Zoom to connect with others. My mother, daughters, and I played a shared game on our computers the other night while we used Face Time to chat and talk a little smack while we played. ( My Bible study group meets on Zoom every Tuesday.
·      If that’s too techie for you then try sitting down and writing a letter or card to someone. Trust me, the recipient will be thrilled. I received a letter from my grandson. That was one trip to the mailbox I will cherish. And I have the letter to relive the moment.
·      Need some “real live” face-to-face time? Get creative. This past week I attended a “block party” in my neighborhood. It was “Bring your own beverage, bring your own chair, stay in your own space.” Everyone attending had a designated area on the driveway with sidewalk chalk to write our names on our space. 

And this week, my daughter and son-in-law brought their girls over to my house for an Easter egg hunt. Kendall hid eggs in my back yard then my granddaughters hunted them. I watched from my balcony and cheered them on.  What fun!

·      Of course social media helps, but too much internet like too much television will leave you drained.

The Start of my Barn Painting
Finally, you may consider engaging in a hobby or interest: get those photos in albums or write your memoir. Draw a picture or practice the piano sitting in the corner. It's that big piece of furniture you haven't touched in years. 

Time can be a gift. One we often toss about loosely or waste altogether.

All eight of my grandchildren seem to be thriving. They are enjoying the extended family time. Perhaps one day when they are moms and dads themselves, they’ll look back and say, “Remember that time when school was closed and we had so much fun with our parents. I want that for my family.”

What are you doing during this time of social distancing?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hidden Treasures

I have done my best to stay in contact with people during this time of isolation. I’ve called friends to check in on them, I’ve kept in touch with my family daily and connected with others on Face Book. My Bible study group is meeting online. I may not see many people face-to-face, well, at least no closer than six feet apart, but I don’t feel alone.

I’m also trying to embrace this time of isolation doing all those things on the “to do” list. We all have that list somewhere, even if we carry it around in our heads. So far, I’ve cleaned out cabinets and my office has never looked better. I’m painting a picture and of course writing. But one task I set out to do this week afforded me a wonderful, unexpected experience.

When I moved into my current home, I boxed a number of items, labeled them, and never opened them again. I knew some of what was in each box but decided it was time to take a second look. One box had a collection of writings I’ve worked on since I was a child. Seriously. I read a few of my musings and laughed out loud. Another box held an assortment of books from when I taught. I taught everything from kindergarten to college so you can imagine what that box looks like. 

The last box I opened, at least for now, contained pictures and old newspaper clippings. I rummaged through the pictures amazed at how young I was when Tom and I married. I looked at old report cards, both his and mine. 

Then, in an unmarked envelope I found a newspaper clipping. I remembered it. Tom’s mother gave it to me. It was a story printed in the Tampa Tribune in 1969. It was the account of how Tommy Waters of Lutz, had rescued a man drowning in the lake. I knew the story.

June 1969…Tom finished his junior year and school was out for the summer. He and his family were eating dinner when a neighbor ran toward the house screaming. Two men were in trouble in the lake. Tom’s sister told me how he jumped up and over the table, shoved his way through the latched screen door and bounded toward the water. He dove in and helped one of the men onto the dock where his neighbor, a disabled veteran stood and helped the sputtering young man. People nearby told Tom there was another man. Somewhere.

Tom dove again but found no trace of the man. He surfaced for air and because he knew this lake so well, he widened his search to the end of the dock where dredging caused the lake bottom to slope down nearly fifteen feet. He suspected the second man could have drifted into that area. Tom later told me he needed more air when he spotted the lifeless body. He feared that if he surfaced for air he would lose the man and the man would lose his life. So he pressed on. 

Tom pulled that man out of the water and onto the beach. He started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He had learned the rescue technique in Boy Scouts from the town doctor, Dr. Gates. Shortly after he started breathing life into the man, the life squad arrived on the scene. Since Tom was making progress, doing everything as he should and had established a rhythm, the life squad volunteers stood aside and let him continue. Slowly the man responded and the volunteers took over. 

Tom Waters became a local hero.

But as I held the newspaper clipping in my hand I realized something I never considered before. The man’s name. I’ll protect his privacy here and call him Bobby Shoemaker. The article disclosed he was twenty years old and a student at the University of South Florida. His name. His age. His school. More than I ever knew before. I’m not sure Tom ever knew. He wasn’t boastful about it and didn’t understand all the fuss people made. In his eyes, he did what anyone would do.

I looked at the paper again. “I wonder…” I Googled the name and found a Robert Shoemaker in Tampa. Three, actually, but one of them was seventy-one-years old. That would be about right. A few more clicks, a little investigating and I had a phone number.

I called. A woman answered. 

“Is this the residence of Robert Shoemaker?” I asked.

“What is your business?” she asked. She wasn’t rude. She was merely screening calls.

I told her about the article and that my husband pulled a twenty-year-old Bobby Shoemaker from the lake in 1969. There was a pause.
Then she said rather quietly, “You’ve found him.”

Jenny Shoemaker and I talked of the accident and the near death experience. It turns out Robert nearly died again on the way to the hospital. He was traumatized by the event and had no recollection of the day. 

“All we ever knew,” she said, “was what his sister heard. That a man pulled him out of the water and saved his life.”

I had to smile. “You can tell him that man was sixteen-years-old.”

Robert spent time in the hospital and has lasting effects of the lake water that filled his lungs that day. However, he managed to finish college, get his masters degree and make a good life for himself.

“He’s been a wonderful husband and father. He’s always volunteered in the community and still volunteers now that we’re retired. We’ve had a good life,” she said. “Because of your husband.” I could hear the crack in her voice. I understood. 

What treasures are you uncovering during this time of staying home?