Time

One Perfect word

Each year since reading One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber,  I have decided to focus on one perfect word for my life during the coming year. Sometimes I have changed words in the middle of the year, or whenever it felt necessary, but it’s OK.  For each of us, needs change.  Then focus shifts.  Anyone who has ever had a sick child or loved one knows this, or anyone having to deal with sudden complications, plane flights interrupted, any kind of emergency. The list goes on and on.

What I am talking about here is more quiet things that occur in our lives. Sometimes it’s a small lesson, maybe a word from a stranger that causes us to realign our paths for the moment, and maybe forever.  “That’s it.  I’m done with that,” or “Yes. This is a new way. I’ll try this for now.”  And we shift our focus.  “It’s time I let go of that,” or ‘It’s time I looked at this in a new way.”

So it’s easy to see that the word TIME is my One Perfect Word for the year.  It’s simply time for me to focus on time. To integrate time more fully in my life. We are only one month into 2016 and already I can see that time is a major focus for me. In the past I’d find myself rushing around, grabbing a water bottle, forgetting my weights, already late for an exercise class … or wondering who on earth left all those dishes in the sink when it was time to start dinner, in a messy kitchen, no less.

Now, with time as my focus, it is no longer happening. I arrive at appointments early and no longer race across town to get where I need to be at an appointed time, no longer fire off texts or emails to friends in the middle of the night or way too early in the morning so that it wakes them up. Just being aware of the time, living in harmony with time rather than fighting it, has made a difference. I feel calm, no longer rushed. I find myself at peace more often, a new experience for me.  The word Zen comes to mind. I am at peace with the time in my life.  Finally at what I consider to be a ‘seasoned’ age, I am losing my long-held impatience with the world.  All in its time, I tell myself.  There is a time for everything. It’s OK to wait. It will happen when it’s meant to happen. Let go. Worrying about when the mail will arrive isn’t going to make it arrive any sooner.  Of course I always knew this to be true.  But knowing something and living with its truth are two different things.

When I chose time as my one perfect word for this year, I did not imagine the ways it would affect me with so such things as being on time for appointments or lessons, not rushing with my own plans, being early to meet friends for coffee.  Little things. Being ready for a TV show with my cup of hot tea all ready, ten minutes before a show starts.  What?  Not ten minutes late? Or on time but still stressing about other things I wanted to do before the show started?  Like making a needed phone call, touching base with a friend, writing a note, firing off a text.  Always the feeling of leaving something undone.

No, the time I was thinking of as being my focus for the year was really more related to age.  The age I am, the age my friends are, the age of their parents and loved one, having people die on us before we are ready to let them go, as if we are ever ready. But the words too soon kept entering my conversation.

I envisioned giving myself time to play in the garden without fretting about other things left undone, time to enjoy picking the flowers, rather than stressing about leaving something else undone just to go out and pick flowers in my yard, or even time to arrange my clothes by color in the closet if I wanted, and relishing that time, not feeling as if I were stealing it from some other task. My new focus on time is that whatever I am doing is the thing I am supposed to be doing at that moment, that hour, that week.

Part of this focus, I am sure, has come about because in late December my younger brother was given a terminal cancer diagnoses with little time left.  A matter of weeks, in fact. I stressed for days wondering if I might make another quick trip to Georgia from Washington state. It’s a long trip, expensive trip, and the kind of thing we usually plan for, not do on the spur of the moment.  I’d told him goodbye in October with a quickly-planned trip to Georgia, fearing the end was close. And now it was late December. Phone calls became more frequent with doctors, nurses, care givers, with frantic prayers and worrying about him dominating my thoughts. Another week went by. Then another week. At an exercise class one Wednesday morning I said to a friend, “I don’t know what to do. I’ve already told him goodbye,” and the reply was, “Go.”  I came home and talked to a friend who was staying at our house. “Go now,” she said. “You need to go. Don’t wait!” I heeded her words and was on a plane the next afternoon.

It was his time. And in a way, my time, too.  A time to sign my brother into Hospice so he would die peacefully, no longer raging against dying. Time for reflection. For prayers. For reaching out to friends, all who reached back in loving an caring ways.

So it is my focus for this year, for so many things I could have never imagined a few years ago. Just this morning I realized, after some personal hardships, it’s time for my husband and me to recognize that we have become survivors, each of us.  One stroke, one job loss, ten days apart.  It took more time than we could have imagined to crawl out of those twin pits of despair. Now we’re OK. It’s time to enjoy our lives again, after years of worry.

In years past I’ve had the word less as my one perfect word. That was the year I embarked on a great decluttering exercise, getting rid of everything I didn’t want to dust anymore. Another year it was the word balance. That was the year I began reading, knitting, and gardening more, each in its own space and time. So nice to restore balance in our lives. Another year it was the word gratitude, when I began to keep a gratitude and prayer journal. So many years. So many perfect words. And now time. It’s time to focus on time in my life, in all of her many and varied disguises.  I look forward to meeting all of the lessons I am being given about time, all the lessons I still need to learn. Every single one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Little Brother

Angels - woman and baby (Grandmother)

When I was 12, my mother told me we were going to have a new baby in our family. I pictured a little sister to love and play dolls with, but never thought it might be a boy.

It took a while for me to process this, but once the reality of a new baby in the house sunk in, I was hooked. Every morning at the first baby sounds I was at his crib, grabbing blanket, toys and anything else my 12-year-old-self could hold, reaching down to lift him, tiptoe back to my bed and snuggle with him until my mother came to find her baby.

Having 12 years between us, our lives took different paths. When he started Kindergarten, I was a high school senior and a flag twirler in the marching band. The year he started first grade, I started college. My little brother was only nine years old when I graduated and was married.

A month and a day after I moved to Upper Michigan as an AF bride, from our home in Pensacola, Florida, my 53 year old father died of a massive heart attack. Our lives became   a blur. A funeral was planned. We drove home from Michigan.

My mother told me later that she would take my brother to the cemetery where he would sit by the grave with his new portable radio to play it so his father could listen. He was nine. I can’t even imagine the heart ache this must have caused each of them.

From then on my brother and I lived different lives. He finished high school and college while I became a mom. I had two marriages. He had three. I had two children. He had none. We were together a few times at holidays, but not often. Letters were sparse. But I loved him, always remembering our times snuggling under the covers until my mother insisted he needed to be changed and fed, and I would reluctantly hand him over ~ all now a life time ago.

My little brother is now 62 and in a hospital in Georgia. It’s cancer. He’s been told it’s terminal. Hearts break silently when such words are spoken. A caring angel named Jan took him to doctor appointments, brought him food, cared for his dog, and called paramedics. He’s past the surgery stage, on cancer medications, and has had dental care in preparation for radiation and chemo. Hospice is next, sometime this week.

I was able to visit him briefly in October, but it was not long enough. It felt surface. He did not want me to see him in decline, and I did not want to see him in decline, either. It hurts to know I can no longer protect him, but I can see that his ashes are buried as he wishes, the last good thing I can do for him.

My brother is confused now, sometimes unsure of where he is, and suffering the pain of finding out today that his cancer is back, and that he does not have long to live. But one thing is certain. I will always love him, even when he sometimes forgets that once, a very long time ago, he loved me, too. My little brother will always have a permanent parking space in my heart.

 

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Renewal

Renewal trellis 5-16-15

Today I am filled with a sense of renewal.  If I lived in a beach cabin alone I could write an entire novel today, so filled with love, joy and a sense of abundance. This picture says it all … taken from my office window, warm and snuggly and still in my pajamas, thinking of the blessings in my life … those past, those here right now, and those to come.

To some this trellis might look like a worn out structure needing repair, or at least needing to be shorn up so it would stand straighter.  On the north side of the trellis, not shown in this picture, there is a pitiful grape plant, sprouting only a few leaves this May. In the past grape vines covered the trellis to the very top, and for two years in a row,  a momma robin sitting on her nest of baby birds the way I used to care for my own babies. Maybe this is why so many people love watching baby birds being fed and taught to fly.

This morning my trellis speaks to me of a life well lived, with the dragon fly mobile that catches the sun all day long and lights up after dark. Last summer, with a robin on her nest at the top, barely visible among the grape leaves,  before we decided to dig up the old grape plant last Fall, I wondered what our momma bird thought about the bright light under her nest each evening. On some level I’ve always wondered what birds thought. How would they ever tell us?

My dragon fly mobile fills me with joy and promise now because my good friend, Gail, sent it to me last summer. She has one too, at her house in California. Each morning it erases the miles between California and Washington and fills me with new hope, knowing the sun it catches during the day will be reflected back to me each evening when it lights up again. My own personal  Old Faithful.

Whenever I look at this trellis I marvel at the only peony  in our yard, a deep pink, magnificent in what it is in a hurry to become, like a beautiful young woman ripe with promise.

And there, peeking through the lattice on the south side of our trellis, is the Cecile Brunner climbing rose that Gail sent me, also last Summer, when I needed as much care as the plants I tended. I put a small selection of colorful river rocks around my new rose bush when it was planted and peeked at it each day as it thrived its way to the very top of the trellis.  A few days ago I placed my humming bird yard ornament at the edge of this rose bush I know will fill our trellis with pink sweetheart roses all Summer.  The humming bird sits there now like a watchful friend. It fills me with a sense of renewal, like everything else about this trellis, whether it stands up straight or not.

Is it any wonder this trellis fills me with such joy?

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Thoughts on the Essay Format

Thoughts on the Essay Format

This morning the essay format came to my mind as a subject we often overlook. We’re after the next best seller – the mystery, or a book so funny we read it and laugh out loud, or books in a series by our favorite writers. For me I’ll check out fiction best-sellers  by Dan Brown, David Frazier, Mary Alice Monroe, Paula Watkins, or Susanna Kearsley. Or a collection of Rosamunde Pilcher short stories. But who among us settles down on a weekend anymore with a good drink and a fine book of essays?

At some point in our educations, most writers have been introduced to essays from E.B. White, May Sarton or Annie Dillard, and more. For me, missing any of these authors would be like never having read a poem by Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson. I can’t imagine it any more than I could imagine never having tasted a potato chip.

An essayist has the knack of catching a moment ‘on the wing’ like a bird in flight, and giving it a whole realm of experiences, a destination, an arrival point.  An essayist can discover a moment ~ prying apart space to observe a happening, or a brilliant flower. Come. Quick. Look at that. Here’s what I see. It reminds me of eternity.

Essayists think in terms of big thoughts. Like seeing something so wonderful you have to bend down to observe it with a magnifying glass so you will not miss a single moment of it. It could be a rock in the shape of a heart, with a tiny frog perched there, throat pulsating, probably in fear that we will reach down to scoop it up. What a frightening trip for a tiny frog, moments before sunning on a heart-shaped rock, perhaps thinking big thoughts for a frog.

An essayist might ponder a southern magnolia tree with a swing underneath, cloistered and dusty, hidden from view, wondering whose feet might have dangled from this swing and dragged naked toes in the dirt underneath. An essayist will take this moment, enlarge it, and leave us with words to live by, thoughts to think, and ideas to be born. An essayist, without even knowing it, can change the direction of lives.

Yes, an essayist can do this ~ capture a moment with a few essential words and cause a torrent of memories to cascade across our hearts. Such a writer can care more for a  single moment than many people care for anything else in their whole lives. The essayist might watch the way a bee buzzes around on a lazy summer day, like a tiny drunken airplane with a bad attitude; remember stroking the soft underbelly of a family pet with an eager wet nose; or long to smell the first ripe peach of a season.

A few words here and there. Well chosen.  Always with a purpose. Remember. Think about it. Turn off the TV. Put down your cell phone or tablet. Close the lap top. Read a good book this weekend. If it’s a  book of essays, all the better. You’ll have a lot more to think about.

A friend once picked up my book of May Sarton essays from the coffee table and asked, “Are you reading May Sarton?” I paused and finally answered, “I am always reading May Sarton. Every day. She never disappoints.”

If by some chance you become wrapped up in thought with a book of essays and become too philosophical for your family, friends or co-workers, they might remark that you have too much thinking time.

A co-worker once said exactly that about me, in jest: “Ruth has too much thinking time on her way to work.” I took it as a compliment, and  had been reading an essay by E.B. White that morning, before leaving for work. The essay was called “Farmer White’s Brown Eggs.” I vowed from that moment on to always buy brown eggs. If anyone opens my refrigerator today looking or eggs, they’ll find only brown eggs.

If any of you are looking for a small gift for a friend for any reason, by all means consider a good book of essays.  It’s a winner every time!

 

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One Shiny Object

Some time ago I went to hear Jess Walter, best-selling novelist from Spokane. He was giving a reading & hilarious talk at the North side library here.  He said that it took him eleven years to finish his best-selling novel, CITIZEN VINCE. He said during this process he walked by a small pond on the South Hill of Spokane and watched a crow circle around the pond several times before diving down to pick up one shiny object in his beak and then the bird flew off. Jess Walker said that that triggered something in his mind about Citizen Vince and he knew then how to complete this wonderful novel. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s wonderful on so many levels.

After listening to him speak, I came home and realized I needed that one shiny object to finish my first novel, BENSON’S COVE .. and yes, I am still stuck on this but differently in so many ways.  Have found my one shiny object and want to be writing like I’ve been shot out of a cannon.  All in good time. Working a bit more on the structure, but finishing this is now on my agenda.

I recently read ONE PERFECT WORD (memoir of Debbie Macomber), and how she picks one perfect word for each year and her life now moves in the direction of those words, usually one per year. It’s working for me, too  I’ll share my new one perfect word with you:  It’s FOCUS.  I’m ready in spades to Focus on my novel.  :)

And really do want to post more here.  Will share with you how my life changed after reading TIME IS A RIVER by Mary Alice Monroe.  Tune in next Friday for this!

 

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A Great Story Teller

My father was also a great story teller.  My guess is that I ‘get that honest’ as family members say. For some years now I have kidded myself about writing a novel. I even asked my husband not long ago, “Do you still tell people I am writing a novel?” He looked at me with a gentle smile and said, “I used to.”  Oh, dear … really?

This past weekend I attend the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in Bellevue, WA, and came home with a request for a partial. Since this novel remains as yet unfinished, the request is for only a partial – in fact, only 10 pages. In the past at various conferences I’ve received requests for 25 pgs., or 50, or the first three chapters, and once for a full manuscript. I sent some in, and for others I never responded.  I know now the reason is that it just wasn’t ready.

But today, with a request for 10 pages after it’s finished has stunned me into writing with the voice I love, the sentimental and nostalgic one I use when writing this blog, the one that fills me with purpose and I have no earthly reason why. It’s this voice, the one I have not been using for my novel. The thought of narrowing down only 10 pgs. (obviously the first ten) shocks me as I sit down to pound them out, or print off the first 10 of the hundreds already written in this novel I claim is about 60% done.  It isn’t.  Now I know that. And I know that there are probably not 10 pages in the whole novel that I’d send off.

So the struggle begins. To write again. With Purpose. And with my true voice. What a chore. I wake up each morning with scenes playing in my head like a movie. If only I could print whole documents from my brain … if only. Then I realize that’s not going to happen, but wait ~ we did put a man on the moon, didn’t we? In a few years, how do I know this won’t happen?

With my luck, if there was this magic printer that would print documents from the scenes playing in my brain, it would also send them off into space before I intended to let them go, the way my cell phone grabs my half-finished emails and shoots them into space. I might have to start anchoring those dream scenes.

At any rate, getting this small request for only 10 pages has changed my life as a writer. It’s making me write with a clear purpose, instead of focusing on the quantity of words I want to write on a given day. Hopefully this time is the charm.

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Windows

Windows

WINDOWS

Each and every morning I find myself looking out at our back yard as I drink my first cup of coffee, and no matter what time of year, I am at peace.  Today, in the midst of July, I relish the beauty of our river birch, which my husband planted as a young tree the first summer we were in the house.  The way it has grown always makes me catch my breath.

I can also see our volunteer strawberry bed, filled with volunteers from neighbor’s yards which I am certain are in our yard from fruit the birds have delivered, knowing how much we love strawberries.  In the center of the window I can see the pussy willow that my husband insisted needed to be in the round flower bed where the Japanese maple didn’t make it last summer.  He was right, of course. I smile knowing I asked at the plant nursery for a pussy willow plant, but now find we have a pussy willow tree, but we don’t mind.

Not only do I look out at our birch, the strawberries and the pussy willow, I can barely see the grape leaves from our trellis by my office window, overflowing with greenery and a robin’s nest that holds three babies this year, and a busy mom and pop robin feeding three babies with fuzzy heads and hungry mouths.

Just to the left of these windows in the living room I can peek out and see a bit of the ash tree planted in the middle of our back yard when the birch also came to our house. I smile every time I see this tree because when our little grandson, Asher, was younger he thought the tree was named after him. And why not?

The beauty this window gives me fills me with joy every single morning, but not because I am able to look out at the trees and see how they are thriving. The real reason I feel blessed each morning is because my husband planted trees and plants like this all over our yard, so that no matter where we looked through our windows, we would see this beauty.

I remember his calling to me from the yard with the white flowering cherry, and the pink plum, asking me, “Here? Or there? Where?” I’d decide, then point, and the shovel would come out of the shed and before you knew it, we had something else wonderful to view out of our windows. I can walk around our house and see not only these glorious trees, but the Fat Albert fir and the small blue spruce in the corner by the fence, the clematis vines we see from the dining room windows in the front, along with our hanging planter and rope chair swing  on the front porch ~ everything that gives us peace here in this house.

On cool mornings a walk through the yard inspires me. If these trees and plants can thrive, so can the rest of us. We can stay healthy, drink in love and be active, just like these trees. We can continue with new thoughts and ideas, just as the plants send out new green leaves and fragrant flowers. There is hope all around us. Our lives are full of it. And then there are the quail we find sitting on our fence some mornings, or pecking for worms beneath the evergreens. Who can look at the quail and not feel love? There’s just something about nature that inspires us all to a higher calling. At least that’s the way I feel each morning when I look out of these windows I love so much, even in the winter when the trees are covered with snow. There’s a gentle beauty in that, too.

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