Pic of the Day

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A couple of people have asked me why I post a “Pic of the Day” on Facebook every evening. Although they’ve been too kind to add, “especially since most of them aren’t really that spectacular,” I feel like they’re wondering about it. The reason for the daily photograph is simple. I’m more mindful of life when I know that I’ll be recording the one photograph that best demonstrates something memorable about that day.

About 15 years ago, a friend and I started gratitude journals. That’s right. We jumped on the gratitude bandwagon with thousands of other women after reading Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance. Soon we found ourselves looking forward to the time of day when we sat down and recorded at least five things about that day for which we were thankful.

Back in the day June and I wrote our lists in the old-fashioned pen and paper method, but lately I’ve been recording the gratitude list in an app on my iPad. The app is especially fun to use because it gives the writer the opportunity to add up to three photographs a day. Knowing that I’m going to add some pictures to accompany the day’s experiences has made me even more mindful of the goings-on around me.

There is beauty all around, even in the mundane, and it’s chancy to leave it up to my mind to remember it all.  For instance, one afternoon after jury duty last week, I walked over to the big second story window to check out the weather before leaving the courthouse. The picture above is the one I snapped. It was still raining. The slick, wet sidewalks, the hunkered over forms of my fellow jurors as they hustled to their cars, and the steady drizzle from the gray sky all let me know that I needed my umbrella. I pulled out my iPhone and took the picture.

The shot didn’t make it my Pic of the Day, but I did post it in my electronic gratitude journal that night. There are days that I’m too tired to record words at night, so I’ll post some pictures as memory prompts for the next day. Those pictures work amazingly well in helping me to remember events, experiences, people, and thoughts of my days. I’m in agreement with Anais Nin who said (paraphrase) that keeping a journal helps one to live life twice.

Do you know what you were doing on Tuesday, January 14 2014? I do, and it’s because of my journal and its pictures. Have you already begun taking pictures of the scenes around you? Would you consider sharing them with us?

Rainy Day Thoughts

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Years and years and years ago, my brother Mike and I went for a walk around the block in the rain. Why we decided to do such a thing, I don’t know. Neither of us were particularly into fitness in those days, mainly because we were young and thin and healthy. Our mother was a stickler for the major food groups. We never even tasted pizza until we were in high school, not because our parents didn’t approve of it but rather because there were no places to buy it in Camden until the 1960s.

But I digress. Yesterday morning I put on a hat, opened my bright orange IKEA umbrella, and headed out the front door for a walk in the rain. “Enough is enough,” I thought. “I’m not going to be held captive indoors by this rainy weather another moment.” Undaunted by the steady drizzle, out I went for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. It was delightful! With temps in the 60’s, the plunk-plunk of water splashing into puddles, and the cool rain hitting my calves, I was glad that I had decided to brave the elements.

Here’s what I noticed right away, the circles in the puddles. Puddles were everywhere, and the steady dripping of rain made some interesting circular designs. Some circles were big and some were small, and just about every single one of them overlapped or intersected with another, sometimes several others. Plus, ALL of them rippled out into ever widening concentric circles.

The puddle patterns made me think of my brother and our walk that day decades ago and of our parents and their love and care for us (not just the two of us, but all four children). All six of our lives intersected and overlapped, then and now. Today even the grandchildren and great grandchildren are affected by that original family of six and the experiences, choices, and interaction that we all had. Plus, none of the family members live a cloistered life. All are involved, even the young ones, in some type of work, church, play, or community activity, thus giving them the opportunity to intersect with even more lives.

Here is my point (at last). The choices we make and the things we do have a ripple effect, and some of them affect others with whom our lives are entwined and connected. Right now I’m getting ready to go on another walk around the neighborhood. Like Mike said, “I keep moving so I can keep moving.” I know exactly what he’s talking about. After my walk, I’ll get gussied up (sort of) for church. I know for a fact about the ripple effects of that experience. If I didn’t go, well, we don’t even want to think about how beastly I might feel and act.

I could go a lot deeper into the above, but if I do, then I’ll lose the time for walking and worshipping. Can’t do that. The ripple effects of exercise are far reaching. Plus, the interlacing of lives, just like puddles, will be made more pleasant for my family and friends after I spend a couple of hours in church.

What about you? What are some ripple effects of your actions? How are some ways that your life and the decisions you make affect others?

No Uninteresting People

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I’m tweaking G.K. Chesterson’s quote about there being no uninteresting things, only uninterested people. The more I live and observe, I truly believe that there are no uninteresting people, just uninterested ones. On a recent getaway to the mountains of NC, this belief was verified several times.

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On our way to Bryson City, NC where we had rented a cabin, we stopped at the NC Welcome Center and were delighted to see a man dressed as Uncle Sam. There was a festival going on, and I met a couple of fascinating people, Jerry Wolfe and Max Woody. Jerry, a Cherokee Indian, is a living, breathing advertisement for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. In fact, his picture is on the front of the pamphlet that he autographed for me. And Max Woody? He’s a sixth generation chair maker who crafts ladder-back chairs and rockers without using nails or glue. I would have enjoyed listening to these men longer, but since we had miles to go before we slept, we left the festival and traveled north.

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When we weren’t hiking and marveling over waterfalls and beautiful vistas, we spent a lot of time browsing through the shops in downtown Bryson City. It’s a delightful little town that we hope to visit again. Not too far from Waynesville, Bryson City has a number of interesting people who reside there.

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After a delicious and reasonably priced breakfast at Everett’s Diner, my husband and I parted company for a while so that he could shop to his heart’s content in a hardware store while I visited a couple of the quaint shops on the other side of the bridge crossing the Tuckasegee River.

Intrigued by the original art work in a shop window, I walked into the store and started a conversation with the mild mannered man behind the counter, the owner of the establishment. I was the only customer in the shop at that time, and before I knew it, we were discussing his life story and the circuitous path that led him to his current location and career. Talented and with an eye for business, he creates 3-D artwork, furniture, and even birdhouses. As he showed me some of his creations, I was immediately impressed with his originality and passion for his work.

He mentioned that he had dropped out of college years ago because of the combined stress of being a father, breadwinner, and student. I told him it was never to go back and finish his program of study, but the longer we chatted, I realized that he was doing what he wanted to do where he wanted to do it. In midlife and content with his life, would a degree really help him? IF he were the type of person who wanted a degree just to prove to himself that he could do it, then yes. But he isn’t. He’s comfortable in his own skin. I enjoyed chatting with him about his children, his time in the Army, and one of his former jobs. We even talked about the Bible a little bit, and when I left, I asked him to share a word or two from the good book. Glad to oblige, he shared something he’d been reading when I came in.

I walked into Second Hand Rose, a consignment shop, and saw a young woman going through some clothes. From a New England state, she had moved to Bryson City and fallen in love with it. Although the job she had come for had fallen through, she had quickly secured another one and was looking forward to beginning her new job on Monday.

“Weren’t you afraid to leave Maine and come to the South?” I asked.

“Sure, it was hard. And I had to do a lot of planning and taking care of things,” she answered.

“I admire you,” I said. “So many people live lives of shoudas and wouldas, and then one day they wake up and it’s too late to do those things they’ve been procrastinating.”

“You really think so?” she asked, glancing away from the merchandise she was scanning.

“Oh yeah!  I think if people could kick the person most responsible for their lost opportunities and crummy lives, they couldn’t sit down for six months.”

She smiled a little, probably wondering who this kooky person was who persisted in distracting her from shopping.

My bibliophile friends will be happy to know that there’s a wonderful bookstore right on Everett Street, the Friends of the Library Bookstore. Well-organized, the layout of the store made it easy to go to just the right section, and none of the books that I purchased were over $3. The woman working in the shop was a volunteer, evidently one who believed in the power of words to transform lives.  I could have stayed there for a couple of hours just dipping into books and picking up tidbits of information and inspiration, but DH (Dear Husband) was ready to move on to the Cork and Bean for a triple chocolate brownie a la mode.

Back at the cabin, I sat on the deck reading the journal of entries left by former visitors to the Dogwood cabin. As I read and listened to crows cawing, birds tweeting, and dogs barking, I thought again, “What interesting people there are in this world!”

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.

Texan in a Black Truck

Some people reading this might think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill or that I’m reading too much into a near miss, but Elizabeth and I know better. We were there when the Texan in the black Chevrolet truck moved into our space the very moment I pulled off the highway. You weren’t.

We were cruising along I-20 on the way home from Atlanta, each of us lost in our own thoughts when Elizabeth  said, “Mom, It doesn’t look like those cars ahead of us are moving to me.”

“I think you’re right,” I said and began slowing down. I was amazed and relieved to note that my trusty Highlander could decelerate from 75 to 0 miles per hour so quickly. Stopping inches shy of the car in front of us, I remember thinking that I sure hoped the cars behind me would be able to do the same thing.

That’s when I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw it: a big black truck barreling right towards the back of my car. I KNEW he couldn’t stop the truck in time, and without consciously thinking about it, I quickly swerved the car off of the highway and onto the side of the road at the exact moment that the black truck flew into the space I had vacated. Drivers in the right lane had seen him flying down the highway and had managed to leave a small free area that allowed him to maneuver into the right lane  before slamming to a halt.

Seconds later, I was back on the highway in a spot left by a considerate driver. Elizabeth and I were both quiet as we considered what had happened so quickly and what could have happened IF…IF she had not noticed the non-moving cars and alerted me in time and IF I hadn’t quickly left the highway.

I looked at my lovely daughter and said, “You’re alive, Girl! And you know why? It’s because you noticed that no cars were moving.”

“But you’re the one who moved over just as the black truck moved into where we’d been sitting!”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. There’s something to be said for quick reflexes.”

Shaken, we sat in silence for the remaining time, both of us pondering the close call. After several minutes, we began inching forward in a stop-and-go progression for several miles.

At one point, we were beside with the driver of the black truck, and naturally we exchanged glances, looks that communicated relief and wonder. He went on ahead, and I noticed his Texas tags. The Texan and I took turns passing each other until somewhere between Augusta and Columbia, and I hope he safely made it to his destination.

“He’d be dead too if you hadn’t moved over,” Elizabeth said.

“And so might several people in the cars ahead of mine.” I replied.

Except for a lousy experience at the Cracker Barrel at Sandhills, Elizabeth and I made it back to my house without further mishap.This morning it hit me: Elizabeth and I almost died! Instead of briskly walking around the neighborhood enjoying the early morning air, I could be lying on a slab at Kornegay’s.

But we’re not.

We’re alive. And we’re both extremely aware of the difference two seconds can make. We both feel that we’ve been given second chances. After my epiphany, I hurried home and walked straight to the room where Elizabeth was reading and again asked, “Do you really understand how lucky we are to be alive this morning?”

“Yes Ma’am, I do,” she relied.

“Okay, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to ask yourself if there is anything you’d regret not doing if your life had ended yesterday.  You don’t have to share it with me; I just want you to think about it.”

“I’ve already been doing that,” she said.

“What I’ve been thinking. No. What I KNOW is that God gave us another chance, Sweetheart. Yesterday was a wake-up call to the fragility and fleeting nature of life.” (Yes, I really do talk to my children like this.)

“I think so too,” Elizabeth replied, probably hoping that I’d leave her alone so that she could finish reading her book.

But I wasn’t finished with my “Momtalk” yet, and she knew it.

I continued, “Some people might say ‘Whew, lucky break,’ but we know it was more than that. Let’s give some thought to what we’re going to do with our lives. It’s clear to me that God isn’t ready for us yet.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

Some people reading this might think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill or that I’m reading too much into a near miss, but Elizabeth and I know better. We were there when the Texan in the black Chevrolet truck moved into our space the very moment I pulled off the highway.  You weren’t.

Because of him, I’m going to start checking some more things off my list, beginning with an adventure that involves the boats above. What would you regret not doing if your life ended today? And why is it that it takes something like a speeding Texan to wake us up?

Somewhere Someone

Words are powerful. They can lift and inspire us, soothe and comfort us, and hurt and humiliate us. It can be one simple word like “Loser” tossed our way or it could be a series of words like, “You can do it!” Knowing the power of words on a person’s psyche is probably what convinced me to buy the little sign above.

My book was going to be available in a matter of days, and  I was feeling concerned about how it would be received. Would people laugh, scoff, call me names?  Although worrying about people’s reactions was a waste of time at that point, I couldn’t help it. In need of a little confidence, I spied the above sign while browsing through a neat, eclectic store with my sister-in-law and niece.  I picked it up and smiled, knowing it was going home with me. The tiny wooden sign now sits in my window, a reminder that while not everyone will like what I have to offer, somewhere someone will.

Naturally, the message has numerous other applications. For the person who’s afraid of starting a new career, meeting new people, or opening a new business, somewhere someone is looking for exactly what that person has to offer. If you don’t change careers, who will provide physical therapy for those people who can respond only to you? If you don’t relocate to PA and open a daycare center, who will take care of those darling kids while their moms work to bring home some bacon? If you don’t dance in the community theatre’s production of Oklahoma, how will that someone be entertained in the way that only you can entertain? Who will landscape the city park, write the primer on how to use social media, paiant the mural, or open the bookstore/bakery if you don’t?

Businesses, books, songs, and services are the only things that somewhere someone is looking for. People are looking for YOU. It’s not much of a stretch to think of these words in terms of personality and the whole “person package.” Whether romance or friendship, someone is looking for exactly what you have to offer.

I don’t expect anyone who reads this blog to go out and change his or her lifestyle, at least not right away. However, I hope that seeing and thinking about these words will give someone the confidence to KNOW that what he has to offer is valuable and good, very good.

Chin up. Somewhere someone is looking for exactly what you have to offer. Doesn’t that give you a little boost of confidence to go forward with your dreams and ideas?

Crossing Over

“You’re a crazy woman, you know that?” he asked.

“Yes Dear. You’ve told me about a thousand times,” I replied. “Just let me out of the car and meet me on the other side.”

“But it’s noon…and hot as blazes. You’ll have a heat stroke,” my husband added, thinking that his words would dissuade me from walking across the Cooper River Bridge yesterday.

From my perspective, the only thing crazy about it was that I didn’t have the proper shoes. I was wearing Teva flip-flops, and although I was a bit concerned about chafing, I was determined to cross that bridge. Walking across it was symbolic, and what better time to do it than the day after my birthday and the beginning of the first week of my retirement.

As I began the first incline, I heard a horn beep, and to the right, I caught a glimpse of my Highlander crossing the bridge.  Already hot, I began to wonder at the folly of the venture, but it was too late to turn back. I had lots of company, mostly walkers, and I entertained myself by observing them and taking pictures of the scenery. One man who was descending the bridge assured me that it was a “teeny tiny” bit cooler at the top. One young woman wearing hospital scrubs walked towards me carrying her shoes, her bare feet walking on the scalding concrete. A few yards later I stopped to take a picture, and when I looked back towards the Mt. Pleasant side, I saw her taking a break, sitting down with her legs drawn up. I thought about her off and on all day and hoped she was okay.

As I neared the top of the second crest, a man zoomed by me. “Show off,” I thought, a little envious of someone who could move so quickly in the sweltering heat. My running days are over. I’m a walker now. Still, once in a while I feel a little twinge of regret or envy or something whenever I see a zoomer, especially when I’m moving about as fast as I can move.

I consoled myself by saying, “What’s the hurry? It’s the journey, not the destination,” and that worked pretty well. By the time I crested the second incline and started down again, I saw him. He was standing by the railing, breathing hard and wiping his head, face, and neck with a towel. I felt fine as I breezed right by him, thinking of Aesop’s tortoise and hare fable.

I snapped two pictures of scripture verses that someone had etched into one of the concrete structures on the bridge. I didn’t know whether to be amused or angered. How can a person who’s serious about spreading “the Word” go around defacing property?

Near the end of the crossing, a young man sporting a pony tail, numerous tattoos, and a finely-toned body flew by me. Moments later, a young woman wearing yellow shorts and a black sports bra did the same. “Ah, youth,” I thought.

I’ve always loved bridges, and the Cooper River Bridge (don’t bother telling me that it’s the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge) has always been a favorite. My mother once told me that I cried and begged to take it home with me when I was a toddler. I didn’t understand about bridges then, how they took you from one place to another. I do now. Crossing the 2.5 miles awesome bridge yesterday symbolized another crossing over for me.  There’s the obvious one, the birthday thing, but then there’s the retirement transition too. I can’t get to what’s next without leaving the shore and crossing over.

It was hot. I had to work hard. There was a gentle breeze near the top, and a friendly soul encouraged me by telling me about it before hand. Some people fell by the wayside, especially if they were ill-equipped for the journey (improper shoes) or they went too fast and burned out. Some who were young and fit zoomed by me.

Hmmm. Am I describing yesterday or the working world in general? In both cases, moving at my own pace, I made it to the other side…of the bridge and to retirement.  I hope the young woman with the painful feet takes better care of herself on her journey. And that the speedster slows down and enjoys the trip.