Making a Place

Today’s my last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life.

I’ve heard it said many times that if you want something to happen in your life, something new or exciting, you have to make a place for it. I think that “place” (I hope my friend Joey will overlook those quotation marks if they’re used incorrectly) could refer to both physical and psychological space. It could even mean time and energy.

That said, today is a most exciting day. It’s the last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life. Then there were the moments of laughter and pure unadulterated fun. Yes, that’s allowed in a classroom, at least in mine.

I’m not going to walk down Memory Lane this afternoon. I’ll save that stroll for another day. Today I just want to emphasize that it’s time for a new chapter to begin, and the only way for me to get there is to make some room. Hence, I’m freeing up some time to pursue other interests and explore different opportunities.

Yes, I’ll miss my work buds. I’ll miss my little office too. What I won’t miss is leaving home every single workday at 7:00 a.m. to drive to Sumter or Bishopville for an early morning class. Nor will I miss those night classes. Like Oprah said in her farewell show, “Been there, done that.” My husband and I have plans for Monday morning. We’re going to have breakfast at the local Huddle House, and I plan to sit by the front window so that I can have a good view of all the working stiffs racing by on their way to schools, banks, hospitals, and offices. 

Then I’m coming home to read, write, walk, and put some of my dreams into action. I might even take a real estate course. Yes, I know it’s not a good time to do that. I don’t care about getting rich; I just like looking at houses, and I think I might be pretty good at matching people with just the right home. I might help my sister-in-law Karen in her new business, and she won’t even have to pay me! I’m going to spend more time with my children and grandchildren. Atlanta, Conway, and Rincon (alphabetical order), here I come!

 We’re also going to do some traveling, and Otis has begun a travel fund for us. Alaska is first on our list. Maybe this fall we’ll go on a road trip to New England just to see the leaves. Why not? I’m making a space for it. Some of my friends and I love NYC, and I’ve started a little fund for that too. On my next trip, I’m going to see/hear the Brooklyn Gospel Choir. I’d also like to see where Abraham Maslow grew up. And I never tire of visiting Ellis Island, the MoMA, or the Museum of Natural History.

Between all the goings-on, I’m making a space for writing. I’m having a couple of pieces published in the next few months, and I have a half a dozen books on the back burner. I can’t get to any of those projects, however, unless I make a space for them. That’s why today is my last day.

Okay, let’s back up. It’s my last day of full-time employment, not the last day of employment period. When classes start again in a couple of weeks, I’ll be teaching a couple for CCTC and one for HGTC (online).  I’m excited about that and have already been collecting material. For instance, I just learned that obesity is the second cause of premature preventable death in America. Smoking is number one.  Can’t wait to share that with my Human Growth and Development classes.

In the meantime, my husband just stomped upstairs where I’m working and told me that I needed to make some space to walk around up here. All the office “stuff” is scattered about and is driving him crazy.

A Bride and a Baby

It’s funny how life goes along in a somewhat predictable way, and then BOOM, a whirlwind comes along and turns everything upside down. Knowing that not everyone in the world is interested in the goings-on in my family and yet wantingwith those who care, I’m going to hit some high points.

It’s been a busy, eventful, fun, exhausting couple of weeks. It’s funny how life goes along in a somewhat predictable way, and then BOOM, a whirlwind comes along and turns everything upside down. Knowing that not everyone in the world is interested in the goings-on in my family and yet wanting to share with those who care, I’m going to hit some high points.

First, there’s Jenny, a.k.a. Mrs. Kacey Carbery. She and Kacey tied the knot on the 15th of July after a busy few days of events. Actually, for Jenny, it had been a busy few months, but for the rest of us, many of the parties and celebrations occurred in July. They’re a much-loved couple, and their friends and family went all out to prove it. Because of their marriage, I met some truly interesting and delightful people, and I hope our paths cross again. In fact, we’ve been invited to spend a couple of days in Victoria, Canada next year on our way to Alaska.

Then one day last week, I started cleaning out my office. It’s too daunting a task to tackle in one day so I’ll be traveling to Sumter again soon to take the rest of the pictures off the walls and the books off the shelves. A friend asked me if it was hard, and I had to admit, “Not really.” My attitude is that I’ve had an office for a long, long time, and now it’s time to move on to whatever’s next. Luckily for me, we have a little room above the garage where I can read and write. It even has a skylight so that I can watch the changing sky.

Then my grandson Seth was born. What a precious baby! My former husband and Elizabeth and I spent last Wednesday in the hospital with Rich and Carrie, Seth’s parents, as we waited for his arrival. After the doctors determined that a C-section wouldn’t be necessary after all, we then had to bide our time until Mother Nature took her course. We walked, talked, snacked, dozed, read, and waited. And then we waited some more.

Finally, the moment arrived when it looked like the birth was imminent, and the doctor shooed us out of the room. A moment later, the door cracked open a little as Rich peeped out and asked if I’d like to come inside. I was so excited!!! I’d never witnessed a birth before and had been saying that all day in the hopes that the parents would take the hint. Having that experience was awesome and  unforgettable.            

As the nurses were cleaning the sweet newborn and putting silver nitrate in his eyes, I stood beside him and talked to him in my most soothing voice. Then the funniest and most marvelous thing happened. He opened first one eye and then the other and looked straight at me. I LOVE thinking that I’m the first person he saw and that perhaps the sound of my voice comforted him somewhat during his first scary moments of earth life. Soon Elizabeth and Frankie rejoined us in the room, and everyone got a turn holding the precious little fellow.

Elizabeth and I then went to Rincon, GA where my daughter Carrie lives and began caring for her other four children. They range in age from 2 to 8, and they kept their grandmother and their aunt busy and “engaged,” a word I’ve heard a lot over the last few days. I could go on and on and on about our special time together, but I’ll save that for another day. I just have to mention, however, that I love how Emma used a wet washcloth to subdue her blond curls so that she could make a good first impression on her new brother. She also took a pink purse to the hospital like a big girl.

That was last week. Now I’m back at home trying to finish the semester, and I’ll go back to Rincon later this week to help Carrie as her household adjusts to its newest member. Until then, end-of-the-term journals and assignments are calling my name. And then there’s the office thing. I wonder if Holly, the director of security, will make me turn in my key.

Older and Wiser

My sister Ann and I were cruising down the highway towards Myrtle Beach last weekend, and among the many topics of conversation, aging came up. While there are advantages to getting older and hopefully wiser, anyone with a little age on her has to have noticed some subtle but certain physical changes.

Like for instance, I used to love wearing turtleneck sweaters, especially black ones from the Gap. In fact, I’d say that for several years jeans and a black turtleneck was my signature ensemble. Then a couple of years or so ago, something looked wrong, and after staring at my image for several moments, I figured it out: it was my neck and chin. Alas, a sagging chin and steadily wrinkling neck were the culprits. Vanity, thy name is woman! What did I do? Why, I changed clothes of course, and I’ve never donned a turtleneck since.

There are other changes too. Eyes get all crinkly and wrinkly around the edges. Skin loses elasticity and sags. Collagen is in shorter supply too. Yes, I know I could take care of many of these things with a few thousand dollars and a surgeon’s knife. But will I? It’s not too likely. It would hurt like heck, and besides I have better uses for my money right now. Think:  grandchildren, traveling, beach house, and so on. Sister Ann feels the same way.

What we decided is to try to appreciate the way we look now because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that things are going to get a lot worse.  We just wish we’d appreciated being youthful in appearance when we were younger babes.

On Friday,  I leafed through Oprah magazine and came across a short piece that stopped me in my tracks. No more whining or lamenting lost youth and firm chins. On the last page of the magazine (this month’s, I think), there was a photograph of Oprah walking along with a woman who had a veil over her face. Oprah had her hand on the woman’s arm as if guiding her along.  The woman’s name was Charla, and she was mauled by a 200 pound chimpanzee last year. According to the article, the EMTs who responded to the call didn’t even recognize her face as a face; it was that ravaged by the chimp. She’s blind and has one finger, a thumb.  Still, she enjoys the marvelous feeling of the sun on her face, and Oprah was taking her for a walk so that she could feel the warmth of the sun.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I’m thinking that if I ever whine about wrinkles, sags, or tired eyes again, I need someone to slap me…hard.  I don’t have to cover up with a veil when I go out, and though I look much older than I used to, I feel fortunate to have eyes to allow me to see that for myself. Plus, these eyes can see the dear faces of loved ones, birds in flight, colors, words, and Christmas lights.

Life is good. I’m thinking that maybe I’ll see if I can find a black turtleneck hiding in a drawer somewhere and put it on.  If I can’t find one, maybe one of my children or my sweet hubby will read this and buy one for me…must be from the Gap, however.  I’ll wear it with humility and think of Charla.

It’s Your Choice

Below is a slightly revised version of a blog I posted on the college psychology blog last week. It’s in case you want to check it out. Anyway, the students seem to have really enjoyed it, and so I thought I’d redo it for one of my personal blogs. The post is about change and how difficult it can be. Many people would rather whine or wallow in self-pity than take steps to change their lives, but as 2009 comes to an end, maybe now’s a good time for a step forward.

I’ve been listening to 50 Self-Help Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon in my travels back and forth to work every day, and I’ve picked up tons of useful information. While time prohibits my going into more than just a cursory look at these classics, today I thought I’d briefly bring up the Bible. Yep, the Bible. Although I often turn to the scriptures for solace, inspiration, wisdom, and guidance, I haven’t really thought of the Bible as a “self-help” book like Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking or Allen’s As a Man Thinketh.

 Remember the Old Testament story about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt? It’s one of the most well-known stories in the Bible, maybe because of Charlton Heston’s starring role in The Ten Commandments.  Anyway, according to Butler-Bowdon, one of the things we can learn from the exodus from Egypt for the Promised Land is that people can change their lives. They don’t have to live in servitude, getting beaten by guards or building pyramids in the hot sun. In the book, Butler-Bowdon says that the exodus is the prototype for all social change, including the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The moment I read that, a light switch came on as I thought, “Oh yeah, I can see that.” I can also see that because of Martin Luther King and others of that decade, many changes were set in motion that continue to have influence today.

Whether group or individual, people can walk right through the Red Sea towards a better life. If Rosa Parks had given up her seat, millions of people might still be stuck in Egypt or its equivalent. You, like Rosa and other brave souls, might have to wander around in the desert for a while, but hopefully it won’t be for 40 years. You might even have to sacrifice some security and comforts of life while subsisting on manna from heaven, figuratively speaking.

Still, change is possible. The life you’re living at this moment can improve for the better IF you are willing to take the first step. It might not be easy, but do you want to spend the rest of your life building someone else’s pyramids and living in slavery?

Change is Good

Back in the day, I was a member of the Myrtle Beach Ward for several years. I loved it. I had some great friends there, and even today, I think fondly of Mary, Gail, Carol, Wendy, Cora Lee, Frances, Barbara, Sarah, Dorothea, and too many others to mention. Truly, these “sisters” were and are dear to my heart. Not only did I enjoy their friendship, but I also admired and appreciated the many contributions they made to my children’s spiritual growth.

Carrie might never have gone to Washington unless Frances Radvansky had taken it upon herself to take Carrie and two other young women for a few days. Her daughter Kim was Young Women’s President and made an everlastingly strong impression on both Carrie and Elizabeth. For anyone reading this blog who thinks that’s an exaggeration, you just don’t understand the impact of strong leaders and examples. Linda Moore was one of Elizabeth’s favorite Primary teachers. Cora Lee Jennings was also quite a role model, and more than once the girls would hear, “Remember Cora Lee,” as they ventured out on jaunts with their friends. And Gail Atkinson. I will never forget our afternoons on the beach and at the Springmaid pool as we yakked away about any and everything while Paul and Taylor swam. Honestly, I could write an essay about each of these “elect ladies,” but I don’t have time or energy tonight. 

Life was grand. Then one day I noticed that several Stake leaders were present, and there was a good reason. They had an announcement to make. Beginning the following week, certain families who lived more in the direction of Conway were to begin attending the small Conway branch. Huh? It didn’t really hit me until a couple of hours later as I sat in Relief Society and realized that that would be the last time I enjoyed the companionship and proximity of the women who were so instrumental in my life.

The next Sunday came, and as Frankie and the kids and drove  into the parking lot of the new church, we felt a gamut of emotions ranging from anxiety to downright resentment. Why did we have to move?? Not only that, but the edifice itself was a triple wide modular unit far different in appearance from the Myrtle Beach chapel. Plus, we had to sit in regular chairs, not pews.  What had we gotten into? There wasn’t even an organ, just a piano! Little did I know at that point just how strongly I’d feel the “spirit” in that small, holy building.

There are far too many great things that happened during those years to list them all. I mainly wanted to convey this one point:  Serving in this tiny branch was probably one of the best things that could have happened to my family, especially the children. Carrie, a college student, became Primary President, and it wasn’t long before Elizabeth and Paul were old enough to assume leadership positions that allowed them to grow in ways that might not have happened so readily in a bigger ward.  

Today the Conway branch is the Conway Ward, and the members meet in a beautiful new building, one that was recently renovated and enlarged. I love visiting there, and so do the children. Lib and I visited there on a recent Sunday, and we felt nothing but warmth and acceptance during the time we spent with our fellow Saints.  Carrie and her family are at the coast this week, and she’s ultra excited about visiting Conway Sunday.

I’d like to join my daughters and grandchildren, but I’ll be attending the newly formed Camden Ward. I’ll miss Connie, Cindy, Telene, Kristi, Christy, Darla, Valencia, Lisa, Laresa, and all my other friends who are now members of the newly formed Elgin Ward.  Still, I’m looking forward to the changes ahead for all of us, and I KNOW that we will all grow…just like my family and others did in Conway years ago.

Just Jump!

A shout out to my friend Martha and her story about Mortimer the mockingbird. I like it because it’s charming and well-written AND because it has psychological underpinnings. I just know it’s going to be a successful children’s book because so many children and their parents would appreciate the delightful way that Martha relays Mortimer’s anxieties and how, with support and courage, he’s able to venture out…in fact, he’s able to fly.

Don’t we all want to fly a little? Or are you one of those folks who’s so afraid of flapping your wings and jumping out of the nest that you’re stuck in a rut…a nice secure, boring rut. Like Mortimer, many of us see the blueberries and want them very much (blueberries being a metaphor for good stuff just slightly out of our reach). We’re just too afraid to jump. Fortunately for Mortimer, he has two loving parents who take the time to encourage and teach him.

Martha’s book reminds me of a quote from Who Moved my Cheese, another delightful book. Although the cheese book was written for adults, the message, especially this quote, is exactly the same: “It’s better to wander in the maze than to remain in a cheeseless situation.” You’ve got to love that…and to see the truth of it.

There are times in all of our lives when the blueberries and cheese are gone and there are no more on the immediate horizon. They might be there, but we’re going to have to get off the tree limb or out in the maze to get them. Although it might be scary, I hope I can always be like Mortimer and just start flapping my wings and JUMP!

Sunday’s Uplift

I’ve been quite remiss in my blogging lately. I could blame working and traveling, but it seems that I’ve allowed facebook to eat up my blogging time. It’s easier and faster…and fun too. Although it doesn’t take that much time (I’ve limited myself to 15 minutes per day), it still take me away from blogging. That said, I thought I take a few minutes this morning and post one of the many things I’ve been thinking about.  

This past Sunday my daughter Elizabeth and I had the opportunity to go to church in Conway. It was an exhilarating experience for us for a couple of reasons. It’s always spiritually uplifting to worship with like-minded people, especially those who genuinely care about you. That’s the way it is in Conway. We know and love most of the people there, and I’m sure that if we lived there, we’d grow to love them all. Some of those people have known Lib since she was an infant and one man in particular still refers to her as “Elizabeth Sue.” I won’t mention any names; I’ll just say that we used to LOVE to hear him sing “Master, the Tempest is Raging” when he was the bishop of the Myrtle Beach Ward.

The other reason that Sunday was so uplifting is because of the phenomenal growth that the church as experienced there. In the late 1990’s our family was one of the few who began attending the Conway branch. We were small in number but strong in spirit. At that time we met in a modular unit, and then in 2003, we moved into a newly constructed brick and mortar building. In 2006, the branch became a ward, and a couple of years later the growth necessitated an expanded facility. Consequently, the Conway ward met in Myrtle Beach for about a year until this past Sunday.  With the newly expanded church completed, the members met in it for the first time. Knowing about this event ahead of time, I couldn’t resist topping off my weekend trip to the beach by worshipping in this beautiful building with my fellow Saints and friends. Who knows? Maybe that ward will one day become a stake center.

Okay, I’ll add another reason why Sunday’s service was so memorable: the speakers, the music, and the lessons. I’ll expand on some of what I came away with at another time, but for this morning I’ll be content to mention a scripture that’s found both in Isaiah and in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Come now, and let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18). The spiritual uplift I got from “reasoning together” with the Conway folks on Sunday is still with me today.

One last thing. I’m writing this from the Johnson City, TN Public Library. DH is playing golf, and I drove to the library to look for information about the area. Earlier this morning, I drove through the campus of ETSU, and I wrote in my journal while sitting in a parking lot there. Overlooking the beautiful mountains and surrounding scenery, I was reminded of something one of  the speakers said Sunday. He mentioned that it seemed to him that when God wants us to see things, he sends us to a high place (think Moses) so that maybe we can see things the way He does.  Interesting thought, huh?