End of Year List: 2015 Travelogue

gothereA few years ago I was inspired by my friend Corey Mesler (poet, author, and owner of Burke’s Books in Memphis)  to do an “End of Year” list. Like Corey’s, my list included favorite books, movies, songs, etc. This year I’m going to do something a bit different. I call it my 2015 Travelogue. As I looked back through my calendar—and at lots of photos—I realize again how blessed I am to be able to travel at this stage in my life. Here’s the year’s trips in review:

January—Jackson, Mississippi

February—Jackson; Atlanta

March—Seagrove Beach, Florida; Jackson; Oxford, Mississippi

April—Atlanta; Oxford; Jackson

May—Jackson; Seagrove Beach; New York City; Los Gatos, California

June—Nashville; Jackson

July—Jackson; Gulfport, Mississippi

August—Denver

September—Jackson

October—Jackson (twice); Denver

November—Seagrove Beach; Atlanta

December—Fairhope, Alabama; Jackson; Denver

6a00d83451c79e69e2014e8acf9f39970dThat’s 25 trips in 12 months. Four were for literary events (two were my book signings; two were for friends), one for a music concert. One for a funeral, one for a wedding, and one for a birth. Two for my husband’s medical meetings. Three trips to visit children and grandchildren (Denver). Three trips to my favorite place on earth (Seagrove Beach). Eleven trips to see my mother in the nursing home. As I remember each of these today, I am thankful for the cycles of life they represent, and I look forward to more travels in 2016… including the last one on my bucket list: Paris! Hope the New Year brings wonderful adventures your way.

Writing on Wednesday: DANGEROUS Writing

P&W Jan Feb 2016 coverThe January/February 2016 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine has a terrific article by Tom Spanbauer, author of five novels. Spanbauer teaches “Dangerous Writing” in his home in Portland, Oregon. What is it?

To write dangerous is to go to parts of ourselves that we know exist but try to ignore—parts that are sad, sore; parts that are silent, and heavy. Taboo. Things that won’t leave us alone.

That’s just a snippet at the beginning of a meaty article which was excerpted and adapted from a talk Spanbauer gave at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, for Poets & Writers Live (www.pw.org/live )on October 17, 2015. There’s so much to glean from this article. I’ll only share a few things that stood out for me.

Spanbauer refers to the writer’s stories as his battlefield, and encourages us to go there in order to reflect the truly human side of ourselves, which is what makes writing truly engaging. As he says:

There is no one who is human who is not in battle. So since there’s a battle going on in inside all of us, why not acknowledge that this battle is what defines us as humans and start writing about how it feels to be in this perpetual battle? We can write to the larger question of human suffering by writing of the struggle that exists in our own hearts.

previewI can relate to this in my own writing, especially my first two attempts at writing memoir (both of which are on the shelf for now) and in my dozen or more published essays. Every (good) editor and (good) writing group I’ve worked with has pointed out to me over and over again the importance of being transparent about my feelings. Friends and family who know me well are probably thinking I don’t need help expressing my feelings, but it’s one thing to “over-share” and another thing entirely to write in such a way that your stories—even and maybe especially the fictional ones—reveal universal truths in a powerful way.

But Dangerous Writing is about much more than transparency and emotional honesty. It’s about voice—specifically what Spanbauer calls the “redemptive voice”—and about making our words sing. It’s also about scene-building, loving your objects, and creating places to slow down the pace so that the reader will pay closer attention to the details. It’s about things like “disclosure” and “conjurance.” Don’t those words make you want to read more? Check out this article if you’re a writer… or if you’re an attentive reader who wants to learn more about the craft you enjoy as a consumer.

I’m about to begin yet another round of edits on my novel, as soon as I receive the next overview from the editor. At the same time, I’ll be editing more essays for the anthology I’m putting together, as they are due to me by tomorrow! Spanbauer’s words will be in my head as I respond to the stories these incredible authors are sharing with me. I was emailing with one of them the other day and it was obvious that she is writing from her battlefield, and her words are powerful. She has followed Spanbauer’s advice without even knowing it:

By forcing the writer to look at an event that changed her life, she has to come to terms with something that is intimate…. So immediately the story has roots in the psyche of the writer. By going to her own heart and her own memories and her own pain, the writer knows the setting… the characters… the conflict….

I hope that each of the women who are writing essays for A Second Blooming are courageously storming through that battlefield these final days before the deadline. I know these women personally, and I chose them for this anthology not only because of their writing skills but also because I believe they have indeed made it through that battlefield into a second (or third or fourth) blooming. Can’t wait!

sydney-opera-house-2-636x393This is my final blog post for 2015. Just got an end-of-year report from Jetpack, which monitors traffic to my blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

In 2015 I published 154 new posts, which were read by people in 139 countries! Thanks to everyone who visits, reads, and leaves comments at Pen and Palette. To subscribe and receive email updates, scroll down to the bottom left of this post and leave your email address. Please keep reading in 2016, and Happy New Year!

Mental Health Monday: (Not Upset By) Holiday Weight Gain

indexI’ve been on a 1000-1200-calorie “budget” (I don’t like the word, “diet”) since the first of September. If you’ve been following my blog you know that the good news is I’ve lost 15 pounds. The ongoing news is I’ve got 18 more to go to reach my initial goal. (We’ll see if I change the goal once I get there.)

Everyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows the mental and emotional battles involved—especially when you “blow it” and lose momentum. This has been my first experience with a weight-loss plan during which I’ve been able to stay fairly balanced, emotionally. I’m not sure why—probably God’s grace combined with a small degree of emotional maturity after so many years with this battle. Taking it not only one day at a time, but one bite at a time, really helps.

So, a couple of weeks ago when I had my first really serious binge (on homemade fudge) instead of getting depressed and continuing to over eat the following days, I let myself enjoy the fudge (lots of it!) as an annual event, and continued the plan immediately. Amazingly, I didn’t gain any weight.

Enter Christmas holidays and our trip to Denver to be with kids and grandkids. And lots of wonderful homemade food. Some of my favorites were: Honey-baked ham, potato casserole, green bean bundles (wrapped with bacon), homemade sugar cookies with icing, and egg nog! We were gone for five days. I made a decision to count calories four of those days and just enjoy myself (but with some moderation) on Christmas Day. Well, I ended up with second servings on Christmas day, something I haven’t done in months! But it was a conscious decision, so I enjoyed every bite (and sip) and didn’t worry about the weight. The next day I didn’t feel like I was “starting over” but just continuing what I now believe will be my new lifestyle—mindful eating with rare intentional binges.

So, when we got back to Memphis and I got on the scales, I had GAINED ONE POUND. (According to this article, people tend to gain a couple of pounds during the holidays.) That’s the only time in four months I’ve gained any weight, but it was only one pound, so I’m a happy camper. I know it may take a week to lose it again, but that Christmas feast was awesome!

41q3u72wumLAs the New Year approaches, I’ll continue my plan…. Hoping to reach my goal weight by May, when we have a trip to Paris planned. Am I worried about gaining it back in Paris? Not really. Although French food and wine are wonderful, it’s French women who inspire me. Remember the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano? (Read more about her here.) The premise is that (most) French women (1) walk everywhere they go, which we can’t really do in Memphis (but I try to work out on the elliptical) and (2) eat VERY SMALL amounts of really GOOD FOOD being very INTENTIONAL. I’ve really been learning to do that, and I’m getting used to this new lifestyle. Can’t wait to get to Paris!

Family on Friday: Merry Christmas Everyone!

We’re in Denver spending Christmas with two of our kids and all four granddaughters, so in lieu of a blog post today, I’ll share our 2015 Christmas Card, and a wonderful cartoon by Debbie Ohi. 

Writer Santa cartoon

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

2015 Xmas Card front

Writing on Wednesday: The Gifts… and Leaning In

I’m posting a day early because we have an 8:15 a.m. flight to Denver on Wednesday morning to spend Christmas with two of our children and their families. The gifts were mailed last week, and the kids are doing the cooking, so I’ve had a wonderful few days here to do what I lost most—write and edit.

The literary gifts I’ve received this season have come from twelve of the twenty-three women authors who are contributing essays to the collection I’m editing, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (to be published by Mercer University Press in 2017). In the spirit of full disclosure, five of the essays are excerpts from previously published work, so those five needed no editing. I did have the pleasure of choosing them for inclusion in the anthology, inviting the authors to allow the reprints, and the joy of receiving those permissions. So now I’ve begun to receive the other 18 essays (which are due to me by December 31) and to enter into the editorial process with each of them. Today I read and edited two very different and wonderful pieces. I feel like a kid in a candy store as the stories start arriving in my inbox. Here’s a teaser—today’s titles are “Pushing Up the Sun” and “Woman on the Half Shell.” Intriguing, right?

nativity-icon for FB cover

 

The other literary gift I received this week came as I read again a favorite poem of the season—Scott Cairns’ “Nativity”—which I blogged about in this post from December 23, 2011: “Nativity: The Radiant Compass of Affection is Announced.” Just click the link to read Cairns’ poem and my reflections on it. “Leaning in” has become a trendy phrase since Cairns wrote that poem, but he meant it in a beautifully spiritual way, as he reflected on an icon of Christ’s Nativity. The opening lines:

As you lean in, you’ll surely apprehend

the tiny God is wrapped

in something more than swaddle….

Nativity play

 

A third gift was the children’s Nativity play at my parish this past Sunday (St. John Orthodox in Memphis). The writing, directing, acting and singing were all wonderful! One of my favorite lines was spoken by Joseph, when the innkeeper told him there were no rooms in the inn. He turned to Mary and said, “I’m really sorry about this.” Joseph is often an unsung hero in the Christmas story, so I was happy to read this piece in the Huffington Post from a couple of years ago, “The Manly Side of Christmas.”

That’s all for now… and maybe until next week, since my usual Faith on Friday post falls on Christmas Day. Maybe I’ll have time for a photo or two.

Merry Christmas to all!

Mental Health Monday: Nothing is Really Wrong

karen_carpenter_christmasinterview_NESGZUx.sizedOn this rainy Monday just before Christmas, I’ve got a song on my mind that isn’t exactly a Christmas carol.

Last week I watched a TV special about Karen and Richard Carpenter. I loved their music back in the late sixties and seventies, and was devastated by Karen’s death from anorexia at age 32. As Richard said on the special last week, little was known about eating disorders back then, and by the time Karen went in for treatment, it was too late and she died. I’ve never known what drove her to anorexia—there were only vague references on the show about the stress she was under with her career. But I found myself weeping as I watched her sing “Rainy Days and Mondays,” one of my favorite of their songs. Especially when she sang this verse:

What I’ve got they used to call the blues.

Nothing is really wrong.

Feeling like I don’t belong.

Walking around, some kind of lonely clown,

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

My mother used to say she was “blue.” I think it was her generation’s term for depression. Or maybe for feelings that could grow into depression or just sit there on the soul like a mild sadness. Sadness as an emotion doesn’t have to become malignant. But sometimes it overpowers us. And for some of us it’s often there. As Karen sings:

What I’ve got has come and gone before.

No need to talk it out,

We know what it’s all about….

 Did she? Did she know what it was all about?

imagesI remember a time in my thirties when I wished I had anorexia. Yes. It was becoming prevalent in the news and although I struggled with bulimia and body image distortion and exercise addiction for many years, most of all I wanted to be skinny. And free of my food and body issues. I became severely depressed on and off during that time, and to this day those feelings can overwhelm me at a moment’s notice. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to deal with my emotions better—and my food cravings.

Anorexia is about control. I’ve always had control issues, and since control is pretty much an illusion (how many of us really have control over our lives?) those of us who crave it look for ways to tamp down that craving. Or we look for areas in our out-of-control lives where we can create order. Controlling what we eat is one of the ways that we sometimes seek out. Even as I continue the 1000-1200-calorie diet I’ve been on for three and a half months (and I’ve lost 15 pounds!) I recognize the high I get when I punch my calories into my LoseIt! app on my iPhone and stay under my limit for the day. And the euphoria when the scales register even another half pound loss is greater than the pleasure of a favorite food or drink. Most of the time.

What a journey I’ve been on most of my sixty-four years. I’m thankful for my spiritual life, which helps moderate my tendency towards emotional and behavioral imbalance. I still go over my calorie budget occasionally, and some days I give in to that martini that tips the balance a bit too far. But the good days are becoming more frequent than the bad ones, and for that I am thankful.
Even on rainy days and Mondays.

Faith on Friday: O’Connor on Writing and (Not) Loving God

201311-omag-reading-7-284xfallA couple of years ago I discovered Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful book (published after she died) A Prayer Journal. It contains entries she wrote by hand (the hand-written versions are included in the book) from January of 1946 through September of 1947. She was only twenty-one when she began this short journal. For some reason I was drawn back to this journal this morning and began reading it again with my second cup of coffee.  I hear my own thoughts—my own voice—in so many of her words. It blesses me to see a (Southern) writer of O’Connor’s talent express her struggle with faith. I’ll share a few excerpts, beginning with the final entry in the journal, because I have experienced such similar feelings recently:

My thoughts are so far away from God. He might as well not have made me. And the feeling I egg up writing here lasts approximately a half hour and seems a sham. I don’t want any of this artificial superficial feeling stimulated by the choir. Today I have proved myself a glutton—for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There is nothing left to say of me.

When I first read this I thought someone had been listening in on my confessions! Just replace scotch oatmeal cookies with homemade fudge (the object of my gluttony last week) and the rest fits. A priest once asked me—after giving me absolution after my confession—“Do you love God?” I answered that I must not, or else I would behave differently. But I WANT TO love God, so that’s a start. Again O’Connor’s words bless me:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and myself is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.

bcb45ec22716a18d6510d9ca74a505ba

Reading her words here makes me wonder if I struggle with loving God because I love myself too much.  Or I am too much concerned with my work, with my success. I am heartened that O’Connor expresses this same concern several times in her journal:

 

I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do….

Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted….

Oh dear God I want to write a novel, a good novel. I want to do this for a good feeling & for a bad one. The bad one is uppermost. The psychologists say it is the natural one….

But later (is she making spiritual “progress”?) she says:

I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.

FOprayer-535x266

So there it is—the dichotomy I face every day. But perhaps also a way to face it, by acknowledging God’s gifts to me. And by continuing to ask God to help me love Him, as O’Connor entreated Him:

Dear Lord please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss…. Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You for even this I cannot do for myself.

[You can read more excerpts in this New Yorker article from September of 2013.]

(Not) Writing on Wednesday: The Fatal F7 Error

F7 errorSo, here’s why I’m NOT writing on Wednesday. I woke up to the sound of something beeping in my kitchen. Our GE Profile Oven has a digital control pad and it’s blinking “F7” and beeping loudly. I can push the “CANCEL/OFF” button and it will stop for a few seconds, then start back.

Of course I Googled the issue and learned that I probably need the panel replaced. Evidently it’s a common problem with this model. Here’s what one guy said in a thread at applianceblog.com:

Three of my neighbors and I have the same GE profile double oven (new home development) and we’ve all have the same problem as you described-F7. I discovered the old clean the flex cable connector trick and it worked great at the start. It seems the problem occurs more frequently over time, however.

One of my friends also bought a similar model GE double oven (without consulting me) and has just obtained the same error.

As far as I can tell, to replace the control pad and ERC, the cost is approx. $250-300, to replace them myself. I guess I weary of getting this fixed if it’s a design problem. What if the error occurs a year later? Would like to approach GE with my neighbors and see if they’d be willing to cut us some slack. Not sure at this point…

I’ve got a friend who does electrical work and he’s going to look into it today. My other option is to call our home warranty and they will schedule someone to come out but probably not for a day or two. It would be cheaper (on warranty) but the beeping is driving me crazy. I’m waiting to hear if my friend can fix it today.

Meanwhile, I’m back in my office with the door shut so I can’t hear the beeping. Okay, maybe I can get some writing done after all…. The essays are starting to come in for the anthology I’m publishing, and they are so wonderful! Don’t need much editing, just a little tweaking here and there. Such gifted authors. I’m like a kid in a candy store!

After immersing myself in a yummy essay, it’s time for a second cup of coffee, so I head down the hall to the kitchen, having temporarily forgotten about the damn beeping. Oh, well….

Happy hump day, everyone!

Mental Health Monday: Intermittent Fasting and Alcohol

de1219_445370bd0288459a94e4bd1c5491f175I’ve been on this 1,000-1,200-calorie diet for about three and a half months now. Still holding at a loss of 13 ½ pounds. (I got kinda “stuck” this past week while making home made fudge and taking it to a cookie swap.) But I press on, even with the holidays in full swing. It kind of helped that we missed two Christmas parties Saturday night due to my husband’s illness. I was so sad to miss the chance to celebrate with my husband’s work colleagues and then with neighbors, but I took advantage of our situation and stayed on track with my calories.

This past weekend I read two articles that address different elements of my situation. The first one was excerpted in Spry Living, from a longer piece by Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, which I found online here:

“Intermittent Fasting Has Benefits Beyond Weight Loss.”

I was especially interested in Kirkpatrick’s article because of my church’s tradition of fasting—on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, and for longer periods of time during Advent and Lent and before other major feasts of the (Orthodox) Church. It’s interesting that this intermittent fasting recommends reducing calorie intake for two days each week. On those days, you eat two meals of about 500 calories each, which is actually about what I’m eating every day on my current weight-loss diet. The article says that this calorie-cutting can reduce cravings, which I’ve definitely noticed these past three months. But I’ve been wondering what I’ll do once I reach my goal, and this sounds like a healthy idea. And it can be nicely woven into the spiritual fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The link to this second article was sent to me by a friend on Saturday:

549ba7ec5ca53_-_alcohol-and-calories-does-drinking-cause-weight-gain-1-lg“6 Reasons to Drink When You’re on a Diet”

This friend was aware that I’m allowing myself a vodka martini (210 calories) most days, which amounts to 20% of my daily caloric intake. Doesn’t sound very healthy, does it? And yet, this article cited studies done at Harvard—involving 20,000 women, which found that those who drank two glasses of wine a day had a 70% reduced risk of obesity compared to non-drinkers—and another long-term study by the National Center for Disease Control looked at more than 7,000 people over 10 years and found that alcohol consumption didn’t increase the risk of obesity. You can read the article to get more details, but for now, I’m not beating up on myself on the days I include a drink in my calorie budget. And as long as I work out on the elliptical, I can have 1200 rather than 1000 calories. Perfect—30 minutes of exercise=one Kettle One martini. Works for me!

Family on Friday: Making Memories

DSC00494_edited-1If you read my blog regularly, you know that I have as many unhappy as happy memories of my childhood—mostly because my mother was verbally and emotionally abusive much of my life. I’ve written over fifty blog posts (usually in my “Mental Health Monday” series) about caregiving for Mom since 2007. When I visited her this week on my way to and from Fairhope, Alabama, I found her slipping ever farther away, her mind tangled with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve forgiven her and come to understand more about why she was the way she was in the past few years, leaving me with more compassion for her, and sending me on a search for more happy memories.

25fcc612e9f639efb23676cc9e70d90fThis morning I made fudge for a cookie swap I’m going to tomorrow morning. Watching the chocolaty mixture develop that shine as it melted and blended together, smelling the seductive aroma of the butter and chocolate, tasting the warm mixture as I spread it over sheets of waxed paper, took me back to memories of making fudge with my mother many times in my childhood. It was one of my favorite activities.

 

Every time Mom and I made fudge, she would tell me about her favorite childhood memory—making pecan divinity with her mother. Mom was a sickly child, with asthma that kept her inside a lot, especially during the winter months, even in Meridian, Mississippi. To keep her entertained, Mamaw (her mother) would let her help make pecan divinity. If you’ve never had (a homemade version of) this confection, you’ve missed a real treat. I understand why they call it divinity—it is truly divine! But for whatever reason, Mom and I never made it. But we made outstanding fudge.

Grinch Kabobs

Grinch Kabobs

I made sugar cookies with my own children—the kind you decorate with sprinkles and frosting and candies. And I love doing this with my granddaughters when we visit them in Denver, as we’ll be doing again this Christmas. Oh, and my daughter-in-law bought those little gingerbread house kits for me to make with her girls last year, which is another fun tradition. Recently she sent me this picture of “Grinch Kabobs,” which you can make with grapes, bananas, strawberries and miniature marshmallows. Maybe we’ll make some of those this year.

I hope that however dysfunctional (or not) your childhood home was, you can find some good memories to focus on during this Christmas season. My eyes are filled with tears and a smile is spreading across my face as I type these words. I’m so thankful to my grandmother and my mother for these nurturing memories. No, my life hasn’t been perfect, but making fudge this morning has brought to mind something good: three generations of sweetness.

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