One is Silver, The Other Gold

Events of the past couple of weeks have reinforced my belief that people who have friends are the most fortunate folks who walk the earth. As I posted on facebook last night, “I’m wondering how people make it through life without friends. Seriously, in the last few days, they have listened, advised, entertained, shared, inspired, encouraged, and helped me in ways too many to mention.”

Events of the past couple of weeks have reinforced my belief that people who have friends are the most fortunate folks who walk the earth. As I posted on facebook last night, “I’m wondering how people make it through life without friends. Seriously, in the last few days, they have listened, advised, entertained, shared, inspired, encouraged, and helped me in ways too many to mention.”

Before moving back to Camden a little over ten years ago, I felt edgy, uneasy, and well, downright reluctant to leave the coastal area. I had raised my children there, established a career, and made some great friends. Generally speaking, I had done all of the things most young people do when they leave the nest. How could I go back “home” and leave June, Millie, Murph, Marsha, Judy, Ella, and Elaine?

As it turns out, I didn’t have to leave anyone because they all still live in my memory. On occasion, I actually get to see some of them. This past week, I met with June for a few hours as we went over a manuscript that she had volunteered to proofread for me (yes, she volunteered). We also dined on a healthy lunch before sauntering over to check out the renovations to her daughter’s house. A true friend, June has always been forthright and honest with me, even at times when I didn’t want to hear it (the unvarnished truth).

Thinking my husband would allay my anxiety about moving to Camden, I asked, “Who will I hang out with? Are there people there like me, people with my interests? Do you think there’s a book club I could join??”

“There’s no one like you,” he replied, and if it hadn’t been for the snickering, I would have taken it as a compliment. Nevertheless, I took a leap of faith and left the coast. Within a short period of time, I had met dozens of people, many of whom would become close friends over the next several years. There’s Carol, my department chair, who taught me a lesson right away. I was at Central Carolina, not Horry Georgetown, and my parking ticket wasn’t going to go away by itself. Ouch. Talented and creative, Carol hosted the best Christmas parties I’ve ever attended.

Martha, Lisa, Melissa, and Nancy soon became great friends. So did Jim and Mark and Myles, but this post is about gal pals. I’ve gone on trips with the aforementioned ladies, and one of them is responsible for my foray into facebook. After a New York trip, Lisa kept telling me about a picture of me that she had snapped after she and Linda “dropped me off” of the tour bus at the southern tip of Manhattan. “Email it to me,” I asked several times, and each time her reply was, “No. It’s on facebook, and you need to join.”

Martha and Lisa and I like going to movies and dissecting them later. The two of them are movie aficionados and know far more than I about casting, nuances, actors, hidden meanings, and cinematography than I ever will. So does Melissa. We just don’t get to see her too much because she’s busy busy busy working on her dissertation. And did I mention that we share a love of books? We do. In fact, Martha and Melissa coaxed me to join Goodreads. And Martha, like me, is into all things celestial.

If I continue on with work friends, I’ll never get to my church friends, all of whom I love. Really, I do. One afternoon after working in Sumter all day, I walked into the downtown campus of CCTC (Camden), and there was someone I knew I’d seen but couldn’t place right away. “Do I know you? You look so familiar.” I said to the pretty blond woman waiting to see a counselor about her daughter.

“From church,” she said. “You know me from church. I’m Connie Fogle.” Connie was the first of many “sisters” that I met. I hesitate to list them because I know I’ll forget someone so I’ll just say that just since Sunday, Connie, Tilara, Lisa, Cyndy, Valerie, Sue, Carol, and Donna have influenced me in a positive way.

While I love my new friends, the “old” ones have a special place in my heart. Jeanita lives in Pawleys Island now, and when I’m in Myrtle Beach, I often call or text to ask, “Want to meet at Salt Water Creek for lunch?”  Something especially nice about getting together with her is that we have a history that began when we were youngsters, and there’s something comforting about knowing each other’s parents and “beginnings.” I used to think she looked more like Jimmy than Betty, but now I’m not so sure.

Moving on, there are Linda and Shirley, college friends. Linda stopped by to see me on her way home from a conference the other day, and she truly put some things into perspective for me. Since our marriages, children’s births, divorces, and careers followed parallel paths, we’ve bolstered each other up on many an occasion. Shirley lives in Montana so we don’t see her too often. Just gotta say, though, that she was always the brains of the operation, and her oldest child is literally a rocket scientist who helped put Curiosity on Mars this summer.

And that brings me to today…or yesterday actually. I had lunch with Nancy, someone who attended school with me for 12 years. Having different interests and friends during those years, we didn’t see each other too often. It wasn’t until I moved back to Camden that we became reacquainted. Now we have lunch together at least once a month, and it’s been a great experience for both of us. Because of our conversation yesterday, I’m committed to becoming involved in volunteer work.

One of the things Nancy and I discussed yesterday at the Carolina Café is the power of the internet in bringing people together. While there are pros and cons of facebook, we both agreed that because of it, we’re able to reconnect with long lost friends and acquaintances from our youth. Polly, Vicki, Debbie, Harriet, Joan Ella, Cheryl, and dozens more are more “real” to us now, and we often find ourselves thinking of these friends and their lives.

For those of you who managed to read to the end of this, congratulations! Although it was a long post, writing it put things into perspective for me and increased my gratitude for my friends, old and new. And just think, I haven’t even gotten to my book club and writing group chums yet.

Web of Connections

All week I’ve been thinking of a few shining moments last weekend when 18 people were in my little bungalow at the beach. It was crowded, yes. And it was fun, yes again. Not everyone stayed for dinner, but everyone stayed long enough to choose a specialty cupcake that Elizabeth and I had bought the day before. Yummy! My favorite was called “Day at the Beach,” and it had a tiny umbrella perched atop the icing.

Since my daughter Carrie and I hadn’t had the opportunity to celebrate our August birthdays together, we chose last weekend, and I’m smiling as I remember the lively singing that went on in the kitchen as my brother Mike’s family and I sang Happy Birthday to me. Yes, you read that right; I sang to myself too. As a matter of fact, Sarah Beth claims that I’m the one who started us off. We sang to Carrie later that evening when she returned from the duck pond where she and her kids had sneaked off  to feed the ducks.

Within three short hours, just about everyone had gone home, and by the next afternoon, I was completely alone. And yet, I keep thinking of how although everyone had scattered and gone back into their separate lives by Monday, we had come together for a few magical hours. I can’t speak for my visitors, but as for me, those moments together have buoyed me up several times during the past week. If I need to chuckle, I just have to remember little Colton propped up on my bed watching television, my Kindle Fire clutched  to his chest as if he planned to read.  That was right before, grinning, he called me an egghead.

It’s nice to be part of a network of family and friends who genuinely care about one another. This past week marked the anniversary of the passing of a friend’s child. Much beloved by his family, this young man is sorely missed. As I told his mother, he’s still her son, and she’s still connected to him. Just because she can’t see him, that doesn’t mean that he’s not living his life somewhere else.

Later in the week, another friend told of watching an old family movie in which her mother-in-law was a young woman. Although her MIL (abbreviation I picked up from my DIL) left this life decades ago, she was there in the movie, young and vibrant as she laughingly walked towards the camera. The recipient of her DNA, one of her grandsons, also watched the film.

Living or dead, nearby or distant, there are people with whom we are connected. We’re all a part of a marvelous web of family and friends, and although we don’t get to see these folks on a daily basis, the threads of connection are there. My son sent me a picture of his infant son all dressed up for church this morning. “Who does he look like?” I asked myself as I thought of the web of which this precious child is a part.

Confessions and Revelations

Confession: My friends and I aren’t perfect. Revelation: Neither are you!

A facebook post from my friend Connie has motivated me to say a few things that have been on my mind and in my heart lately. She and I attend the same church and see eye-to-eye on most (maybe all) things spiritual. She’s a “sister” who, like me, does her dead level best to be kind, honest, caring, giving, and all those other positive things that we’re supposed to do. We turn the other cheek, work on being nonjudgmental, love our families, attend most church meetings, pay our tithing, and even visit sick people in the hospital.

Connie and I often laugh and joke at where we’d be and what kind of lives we’d be living without what we refer to as “the gospel” in our lives. It’s only a skip and a hop to pondering the same thing about our friends and acquaintances who are apparently farther along the path of enlightenment than we are…or so it would seem from the outside looking in.

But are things always the way they seem? I know folks who darken the church doorway more frequently than I probably do, but they’re judgmental, unforgiving, and rumor mongering (always wanted to use that term). Others are pessimistic beyond belief although throughout the scriptures we’re told to be of good cheer. They worry incessantly about tomorrow despite the frequent Biblical instruction to have faith. Remember the tiny sparrow?

And then there are those who could spout off the 10 Commandments like nobody’s business, but they put possessions and “other gods” before God, take His name in vain, and/or treat their parents abysmally. And let’s don’t forget those who think keeping the Sabbath holy means going out to eat after church and sleeping the afternoon away. Don’t even bother responding to this by telling me that going out to eat as a family keeps unity going AND helps insure that those working in restaurants have jobs. (As an aside, I’ve been known to do all of the above.)

Here’s the difference between Connie and me and “those other people.” We KNOW that we aren’t perfect, and we don’t need anyone to tell us that or to remind us of the shoulds and should nots. We know them, and we’re trying to incorporate them into our lives as best as we can. All of us are in different spots in our spiritual progression.

Time to bring this to a close. Here’s what I know: LOVE is the word. As I write this, I can’t help but think of my former mother-in-law and the many acts of love and compassion that I’ve seen her perform. This afternoon, I’m thinking specifically of how she’d often leave church early to go home and put the finishing touches on a scrumptious meal for her family. Lots of mothers do that; I used to too (although my children might take issue with the scrumptious part).

Here’s what set her apart from me and the other mothers. Before any family members partook of the Sunday feast, she fixed a plate of goodies for a “shut-in” neighbor and sent it over by one of her sons. Did she leave church early? Yes. Did anyone at church have anything to say about it? Yes. Did she show love? Yes. Did you?

Here’s my goal as found in Micah 6:8. I rediscovered this scripture after reading Same Kind of Different as Me.  “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Take the Time

What am I saying? Connections are important. Things like parties and signings and dinner dates with friends take time, but they’re important. Take the time for them!

I was a little tired after Wednesday’s 180 mile drive to Rincon, GA to see Braden on his 9th birthday. His great grandmother and I went down for the day so that we could share a Dairy Queen lunch (Braden loves that place) and some birthday ice cream.  After a few hours, we hopped in the car for the return trip.

Then on Thursday, the weekend got off to a great start with a movie at the Nick with Melissa, Martha, and Brenda. We went to see Kid with a Bike at the Nickelodeon and then walked down Main Street to Hunters and Gatherers for a bite to eat. When Brenda asked if anyone wanted to do some hunting and gathering, I thought she was asking if anyone wanted to go shopping! I didn’t know about this cool restaurant on the corner of College and Main, a superb location to soak up the ambience of downtown Columbia. That night there was some mellow music wafting outside to our table on the sidewalk, and we loved it. Loved the huge orange sun setting in the west too.

Then it (the weekend) got even better on Friday with Whitney’s pool party followed by a dinner date with Connie and Tilara. Whitney is turning 7 tomorrow, and her parents hosted her party a few days early. Although I couldn’t stay at the celebration very long, I can still hear the kids squealing and splashing in the pool. I joined my buddies at Salud for a great meal as we commemorated yet another birthday, Tilara’s. To our delight, there was a band playing that night, and I recognized the keyboard player from the night before.  Mellow and relaxing, the music set the tone for some good conversation and unwinding.

On Saturday, there was the book signing at Nephi’s Books, and afterwards, I scurried off to Wal-mart to get some last minute provisions for a honeymoon shower that we were hosting for Chris and Angie that evening. It turned out to be a fun event with lots of good food, especially Cindy’s and Judy’s yummy desserts. Mrs. Bowers’ slaw and Karen’s baked beans were a big hit too. And just in case you’re wondering, my fruit tray from Wally World also got some praise.

Sunday morning’s services were especially enjoyable. The speakers were awesome, and today I’m thinking of Brenda’s humorous opening sentences and Zach’s well-organized and confidently delivered talk. His parents have every reason to be so proud of him. And Primary was enjoyable too. The little children are funny, sweet, entertaining, and “fresh.” Their leaders are caring and concerned, and it makes me even more convinced that Primary leaders just like the ones in our ward were instrumental in helping to teach, guide, and love my children into the people they are today.

Church behind me, we scooted over to Irmo for another birthday celebration, this one for Olivia Jayne who turns 2 on Tuesday. She danced, talked, put on jewelry, ran around with boundless energy, devoured a chocolate cupcake, squealed with delight when her Uncle Matt threw her up in the air, and in general, just held her grandmother in awe as she (I) considered how much she had grown and changed in two short years. Olivia’s parents had come to Atlanta with their two little ones to spend Memorial Day with Amanda’s brother and his family, so I got to see the whole gang. Loved it! It was especially gratifying to see Ethan, my youngest grandson, being held by his paternal great grandmother.

Back in town, I scooted up to the hospital to see my aunt who’s recuperating from pneumonia. As an added bonus, I got to talk to one of my cousins, Sue, and to look at some beautiful family pictures.

What am I saying? Connections are important.  Things like parties and signings and dinner dates with friends take time, but they’re important. Take the time for them!

Sisterly Thoughts

Sometimes people look at me a little curiously when they discover that I’m LDS. And no, it’s not my imagination. I’m a pretty intuitive person and can pick up vibes, both positive and negative. That’s a topic for another day, however. This evening I just want to share a little something about one of the major reasons that I love this church so much.

Are you ready? It’s my sisters. Truly, no matter where I am or what I’m doing or who I’m with, when I see a “sister,” I feel an immediate connection. I know that she knows and believes the same things that I do and that we speak the same language. I don’t have the time to go on and on about this today so I’m going to mention only one person, Lisa C, and her influence on my life. I chose the above picture becaue she’s artistic and likes to ride horses.

I don’t want to embarrass her, but she needs to know that these three incidents made a deep impression on me, on my soul.

When my grandson Seth was born last July, I had the privilege of being there when he made his entrance into the world. In fact, the doctor and I were the first ones to see him. Right away, I could see that he wasn’t the rosy color that I thought he would be. He didn’t seem to be moving very much either and appeared to be kind of flaccid.

My amateur impressions were correct, and right away the doctor signaled for the neonatal specialists to come in. If I recall correctly, three nurses came in and began working on the little fellow. What did I do? I stood looking at him, trying hard not to cry. My beautiful daughter kept asking, “What’s wrong? Why isn’t he crying? Is he breathing, Mama?”

“He’s fine,” I said. “Just fine.”

I began talking to him as gently and soothingly as possible. Although I can’t remember the exact words, I probably said some things like, “Hey, Sweet Boy. Do you hear me talking to you? This is Grandmama. How do you like being in this big old world so far? Huh? Come on now. Open your eyes so I can see them.”

I pretty much repeated the same ramblings over and over as the nurse competently cleared his lungs and throat. And then a miracle occurred. Seth opened his eyes and looked right into mine. Yes, I know babies don’t have 20/20 vision for several months and that he didn’t know me from the television hanging on the wall, but still….He looked at me for several seconds as I continued speaking in low, calming tones.

Months later, I told Lisa C about his birth and remarked that I liked thinking that I was the first person he saw when he opened his eyes and that he sensed my love for him. Without blinking an eye and with complete sincerity, she said, “You communicated spirit to spirit.” And you know what? We did. We absolutely did.

Here’s the second incident. One day in Relief Society, the women’s organization in our church, Lisa told a story about her daughter going to school. I can’t remember all the details, but it was probably one of the first days that her child went to middle school. Like every pre-teen in  America, her daughter was a wee bit nervous about the situation.

There are a number of ways that a parent can handle a child’s apprehension about new things, but here’s what Lisa C did. She reminded her daughter that she was the daughter of a Heavenly Father who loved her very much and that she was a princess, the daughter of a king. That might sound corny to people who aren’t LDS, but I love that way of thinking. Lisa, her daughter, my daughters, and you and I are also of divine origin.

Okay, here’s the last scenario. Months ago, one of Lisa C’s young sons (I think he was 11 at the time) was speaking in Sacrament meeting, and he said how grateful he was for his mom. Here’s a paraphrase: “Moms are the ones who keep everything together. If it weren’t for them, we’d probably all be floating out in space somewhere.” He said this with the cutest smile ever, and I thought, “Wow, what a tribute!” If a child can stand in front of a congregation and say something like that, then the mother is doing something right!

There are probably some errors in the above paragraphs because I’m in a hurry to get to the grocery store (story of a woman’s life), but I wanted to share these thoughts about one of my sisters. Anyone with an open heart and mind can understand a little bit more clearly about why I love the LDS faith so much. It’s because of Lisa C and women all over the world who are just like her, women who speak my language.

Hope, Direction, and Gratitude

On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to get together with June, an old and dear friend. Among the many topics of conversation that afternoon was the awesome power of books to change one’s thinking, give hope, and offer direction. Yes, we talked about paint chips and husbands and careers too, but somehow the topic always returned to some of the books we’ve read and how they affected our lives.

While there are dozens that I could mention, I’m only going to highlight a few:

The first three words in Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled were sobering for both of us the first time we read it. Basing his premise on the noble truths of Buddha, Dr.Peck states, “Life is difficult,” and then goes on to say that as soon as people accept that fact and stop whining, then they can go about their lives in a more effective way.

June and I went through a season in which we devoured the words of Sarah ban Breathnach in her book Simple Abundance. We even gave each other gratitude journals and followed Sarah’s (we felt we were on a first name basis with her)  advice to write five things each day for which we were grateful. What this taught us was to be more mindful and to pay attention  to the good things in our lives.

And how can I forget Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go? I can’t. In fact, I’ve  given several copies of this book away and currently have a copy here at home, at the beach bungalow, and on my Kindle. Sometimes I forget that I deserve all that life and love have to offer, and I need a reminder from Melody. I’ve also learned about detaching with love, the power of waiting, and knowing  when to say no from her.

Then there’s Dr. Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I first read this book 14 or 15 years ago, and I continue to dip into it whenever I need a reminder to be proactive, make some deposits in an emotional bank account, or sharpen the saw. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a big Covey fan.

Though small, Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved my Cheese? also gave me much food for thought. A student introduced me to this book, and his favorite line soon became one of mine: “It is safer to search in the maze than remain in a cheeseless situation.”

Before I get too carried away with more favorites, I just want to reiterate that reading can change a person’s perspective, lift her out of the doldrums, and show her a better way. I’m hoping that my new book, Eve’s Sisters, a compilation of essays applying psychological principles to the women of the Bible AND the women of today, will help people as much as other books have helped me!

Blackberries and a Bell Tower

We began our first full day in the capital city fortified with a magnificent breakfast in the hotel dining room. In addition to the customary eggs, bacon, waffles, cereal, and grits, there were other tasty treats such as salmon, capers, and a nice variety of fruit, including my personal favorite, the sweetest, plumpest, most succulent blackberries I’ve ever tasted. Plus, each day we were there, our server brought complimentary strawberry smoothies to us, and I can still taste the rich twang of the fruit. Nice!

Armed with directions, Tilara led our little band of tourists towards the Holocaust Museum. Walking briskly to stay warm, we nonetheless managed to take in the many interesting sights around us. As we stopped at a stoplight, I noticed a lovely young woman with a beautiful smile looking at us. I had begun to wonder if we looked weird or something when she asked, “Do you ladies need some directions?”

After about ten seconds of hesitation, we told her of our destination. She assured us that we were headed in the right direction and then began to fill us in on some inside information, the kind of stuff that residents know. Turns out she was a graduate student at Gallaudet University who was taking the day off to do the tourist thing. Alyssa was missing her mother, and we were missing our daughters, so we five banded together for a splendid day of sightseeing.

After crossing the street, we walked through a beautiful park filled with art work and sculpture. I took several photographs and am including two of my favorites. I love trees, even stark wintry ones, so I was captivated by this silver one whose branches were bereft of foliage. And the headless people? I can’t explain its appeal. Maybe I liked it because of its uniqueness. In my hometown (dear as it is), we have statues of heroes (all male), not a gallery of headless, sexless human creatures.

Alyssa led us across the mall and pointed out the various Smithsonian museums. Continuing our walk, we soon crossed another street and found ourselves at the entry of the Holocaust Museum. Four hours later, we emerged, sobered and vowing to “never forget.” Of all the things I saw and heard there, I think the hundreds of black and white photographs of children, family units, couples, brothers, sisters, and friends affected me the most. Here were people just like me enjoying the sunshine and the fellowship of loved ones, and then there was nothing. While in the gift shop, I reread portions of Elie Weisel’s Night. I immediately remembered reading this on the beach one summer, sure that the bright sun and lapping waves would lessen the horror. They didn’t.

I didn’t take any photographs at this museum. No one did.

Our next stop was the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, an attraction that Connie had read about online. It has a huge statue of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the United States Post Office, out front so we seized the opportunity for a photo op with him.  While there, we had snacks and enjoyed the beautiful architecture before going  up to the bell tower atop the building. It was freezing! Still, our time there was worthwhile, not only because of all the bells but also because of the fabulous views of the city. The woman working in the tower was kind enough to come out of her warm little cubicle to take this picture.

We told Alyssa that one of our goals was to eat ethnic food while we were in the capital city, and she recommended a restaurant called the Thiatantic. Catchy, huh? On the way to the metro, we walked by the Navy Memorial and took some cool pictures of us with the tall, handsome sailor standing with his duffel bag. As our knowledgeable young tour guide pointed out, he stands overlooking a map of the world.

The metro ride was interesting, and we were all happy to have experienced this as part of our trip. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, we were captivated by its charm. The menu was extensive, the décor was simple yet eloquent, the service was outstanding, and the food was delicious. Interestingly, one of Alyssa’s friends and her beau were also dining there, and she agreed to take our picture.  I enjoyed the evening so much that on our way home, we made a stop in Target so that I could purchase a scarf like Alyssa’s friend was wearing as a momento.

Back on the metro, Alyssa gave us instructions on what to do once we got back in Chinatown and the metro stop that was just a few blocks from our hotel. We all hugged Alyssa good-bye (for now), and Tilara extracted a promise from her that she’d call once she was back in her apartment safe and sound. You’d think four “mature” women would get it right, right? But no, we took a little detour before finally getting on the right train that was going in our direction.

Back at the Renaissance, we chatted about our experiences, all of them made better because of meeting our young friend who was kind enough to share her knowledge of the city. She also taught us some sign language, and one of my favorite expressions is, “Think for yourself.”

Day Two and the Smithsonian to follow….

Road Trip, Road Trip!

I thought I’d have much more time to write when I retired, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s because I’m only semi-retired. And maybe it’s because I’m so busy doing other things that I couldn’t do while I was working all the time. Then again, I actually have been writing quite a bit, just not blog posts.

Excuses aside, I’m taking a few minutes to write about my recent trip to Washington, D.C. that I took with some friends. Not only will it help me to remember all of the cool sights and sounds, but it might also encourage some other people to make the trip. Before I get into the nitty gritty details, let me just say that’s it’s an awesome city and one that every American needs to visit.

When Tilara called to invite me about a month ago, I thought, “Sounds great, but I can’t really afford it right now.” Coming on the heels of Christmas, the opportunity was tempting, but I needed to curtail my spending for a while. Then she told me about her time share. Hmmm. Maybe it would be doable after all if I had no lodging expense.

We agreed to look into transportation possibilities including planes, trains, and automobiles and talk in a day or two. By this time, I had begun to think, “Why not?” instead of “No can do.” When Jeanita and Connie said they could go, I knew it was a perfect foursome, and all of my reservations went out the window. We decided that driving was the best way to go and that my car would be the most practical choice. It would hold us and our luggage comfortably, it gets good gas mileage, and it had just had a check up.

We headed out on Friday the 13th the around 7:00 a.m., and before we even made it to the interstate, we had made some ground rules, the main one being that if we were hungry or thirsty or in need of a potty break, we’d stop. We four believe that the journey is just as important as the destination and that there are a lot of interesting experiences to be savored off the beaten path. We didn’t go crazy with this, but we did enjoy lunch at a Cracker Barrel in NC and snacks at a Wawa in Virginia. At Cracker Barrel, we leisurely browsed through the store without someone hurrying us along by saying, “You about through looking?”

Around 4:00 p.m., we arrived in the city and rode around looking for the hotel. Tilara, the Washington expert, was driving, and she was getting concerned that we couldn’t find it right away. The rest of us were loving every minute of riding around the streets and avenues. We were like schoolkids saying, “Oh, look at that!” and “Hey, there’s the Washington monument!!”

Connie spotted the Renaissance, and as soon as we walked into the lobby we fell in love with the ambience. The music and the décor were marvelous, and the feng shui was perfect. We especially liked the library room and took pictures so that we could redo our bookshelves when we got home. On Monday morning Tilara and I met an accounting professor who was studying for classes in the “library.” He and I talked a little about the background work of preparing for class. You can’t just walk into class and go into a programmed spiel unless you’ve read and studied and practiced and tweaked and read and studied some more. But I digress.

That evening when we finally got settled, we made a foray onto the streets for a bite to eat. First we visited Barnes and Noble, and although I didn’t buy anything there, I enjoyed browsing through the books and reading a couple of magazines. Afterwards we walked around a little, and I spied an Anthropologie that I wanted to return to the next morning. It didn’t happen, but it’s not on my list of regrets because there were so many other fantastic things that we did. Plus, there’s always next time.

Hungry and tired from all those hours on the road, we ate at Hard Rock Café. The food was delicious, especially the appetizer, but I wish we could have had a different side than fries. I’m wondering if the chain hasn’t gotten the word that America has a growing obesity epidemic.  Although I liked the music and memorabilia, I’ve been in these establishments in different parts of the country for over 20 years, and they’re starting to run together. My favorite is in Myrtle Beach, SC, maybe because of the staircase descending down, down, down into the restaurant. The sky ceiling is unique too. Oops, I’m digressing again.

We bid Mama, our male server with a unique accent, farewell and walked back to the hotel. Although it was cold and dark, we were caught up in the magic of the capital city, and we took our time walking home, remarking on places we wanted to visit the next morning. The only thing that cast a shadow over the evening was the number of homeless people we saw wrapped in gray blankets. Feeling greedy, selfish, guilty, and compassionate, we left our Hard Rock leftovers on a bench for one of them.

Exhausted, we fell asleep easily, each of us remembering the day of traveling and the memories we’d already made. Stay tuned for Day One in Washington. It stands as proof that one never knows what good things lie in store, even when (maybe especially when) you aren’t looking for them.

Focus, Connie. Focus.

About five years ago, my friend Connie and I began coming up with a “Word of the Year,” something that would direct our thinking and acting throughout the upcoming year. Weary of making resolutions that bit the dust after a few weeks, we thought that a word that could encapsulate several goals would work better. Turns out we were right. Not only did we make most of our decisions based on our individual words, but we also found ourselves permanently changing our behavior. Well, semi-permanently. There are still times when I have to remind myself to have COURAGE, to BELIEVE, and to say YES more often.

After much thought and deliberation, Connie came up with her word last week. It’ s EXPLORATION. Curious, I asked her whether she meant exploration of other places, interests, and ideas or whether she meant inner exploration. Was she planning to take more trips, hike on the Appalachian Trail, take up painting, or discover inner talents? “All of it. Everything,” she answered. And guess what? She’s already started. If the fates are with us, we’re going on a road trip to Washington, DC with a couple of friends later this month.

Enough about Connie. What about Jayne? My word for 2012 is FOCUS. That doesn’t sound as exciting as EXPLORATION, but it’s something I definitely need to work on. Besides, I’m pretty good about the exploring part. I could stand some improvement in that area, but I need a huge amount of improvement in the focusing department. My husband often says, “You just need to concentrate on one thing at a time,” or “If you’d just pay attention and do one thing at a time, you’d get more accomplished…and maybe you wouldn’t misplace so many things.”

Then too, there are several projects I’m working on, and I know that I need to focus on one at a time. Should I correct the galleys for a book I’m self-publishing? Should I write a few paragraphs for a ebook that I’m writing about what every technical/community college student needs to know? Should I clean out the refrigerator? Should I mail the packages to Olivia and Carrie? Or maybe it’s time to clean out some closets. Or no, that can wait. What’s really important is playing Words with Friends with my brother. Then again, classes begin next week, and we’re using a new text for an intro class so I better get busy on that. But not until I start reading this new book I ordered for my Kindle.

See what I mean? I need to focus focus focus focus.

I knew my decision was a good one when I went to church today. During Relief Society, Michelle shared her enthusiasm for a blog she’d read about using a word to guide one’s thinking instead of making resolutions. She encouraged us to use verbs and then shared examples of some words that we might like. Several class members, including yours truly, participated by sharing their words.

Here’s what I found especially interesting. While talking to us about THE WORD, Michelle used some variation of focus at least a half a dozen times. Then Kitty spoke up and said that she needed a word that would help her focus. Another person said that she was trying to focus on gratitude, and yet another said that she was focusing more on being fully present.

So FOCUS is my word for 2012. I’ve already cleaned out the refrigerator tonight. I have my to-do list ready for tomorrow, and I’m going to focus on doing one thing at a time…and on being mindful of the tremendous opportunities and blessings that I enjoy.

What’s your word?

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.