Play Shuffle, Life

           “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.  One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”—Anne Morrow Lindbergh

           Remember when the IPod was introduced, and the way we consumed music was forever transformed.  Years of listening to the radio, or even an album, where another person controlled the sequence and timing of songs without, per se, personal input, was revolutionized.  The consumer could now choose songs for download, create personal playlists for any occasion, and if desired, could even shuffle all those songs, those playlists, those genres into a Golden Corral of sorts, where all types of music could be sampled, and if the appetite was big enough, voraciously devoured. And, like a buffet, one could simply skip over any song nugget that did not fit one’s current craving with the push of a button.

 

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          Along a similar path, I recall the days of typing papers.  Ugh! Even my master’s degree was completed with an electric typewriter.  Personally, I spent hours, taking random notes/facts and writing them on individual note cards with sources listed on the back as my long-ago high school English teacher, Mr. Wheeler, taught me to do. Then, I’d lay them all out on the floor, or dining room table, and begin the process of arranging, rearranging, and grouping these cards into potential sections of the paper. Next, I’d label each stack, and arrange them into what seemed like a logical order.  Finally, I’d used stacks of notebook paper to write out some semblance of a rough draft long hand style—and, yes, arrange and rearrange those pages. All of this before even sitting down to type! And, oh, heaven help my typing skills (Sorry, Tana Lewis, you tried to force my fingers to type 45-65 words per minute without an error in your Typing 1 class, but, alas, I am still an over-thinking-lack-of-confidence-error-ridden typist!)

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           The digital age has changed life in dramatic ways as I reflect over all of the rapid change I have witnessed over five decades.   I can now pay, or use a “free-version” (with, of course, commercial ads), of various music services, if I desire, rather than downloading individual songs or albums.   These services will even suggest songs I might like—allowing me, like that Golden Corral buffet, to sample a bit of this album or a morsel of that genre without increasing my cost.

 

 

           Furthermore, when writing and/or researching, I can copy, cut, paste, delete, and rearrange to my heart’s delight.  Multiple sources filled with facts, data, and anecdotal evidence can be easily and quickly be found, validated, and bookmarked.  No longer do I have to buy nearly a forest-worth of paper, note cards, and notebooks. I just click a key, touch a screen, or scroll with my finger, and voila, information in less than a second!  Why, it almost tempts me to go back to school just to research and write papers. Hmm . . . Stephanie Musick, Hill, PhD, does have a ring to it . . .wait a minute . . .nah . . . I think I’ll shuffle on to a different life tune.

 

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           My current rabbit-hole of thoughts regarding shuffling, cutting, pasting, and even buffets, led to me to a recent lesson—a lesson I am still struggling to learn:  l-i-f-e. Those playlists and even writing projects, such as this, can be carefully controlled. Click—add a song; click—no, delete it, and put it here; or likewise, click—change the word; click—find a quote; click—no, there has to be a better way to say it; click, click, click, click—delete the phrase; click, click click—ah, that sounds better this way.

 

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Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

 

           Life is not so easily arranged, manipulated, and/or controlled.  Sure, as humans, we like to think we are in control. We believe we can arrange our schedules, our goals, our days, and our lives into precisely sequenced time-slots of events. However, like the shuffle option on our favorite way to consume music, life is full of randomness.  Sometimes, we are lulled by days, months, or even years (if we’re lucky) of sweet sounding summer-like tunes like time spent with gentle surf, warm sunshine, and not-too-hot sand. Yet, even that ideal beach shoreline, continuously changes due to storms, rough water, high tides, strong winds, and pollution; and still, tourist go back year after year.

 

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As seen on Instagram by positiveenergyalways

 

           Like the beach of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s eloquent quote, we must remain open to the possibilities.  Grasping and attaching to “the story of life” as arranged by our mind, often leads to suffering, anxiety, and even fear–especially of the unknown.  And, while the sea of life, can certainly shuffle-in storms, debris, high-waters, and random pieces of trash, it can also offer up beautiful shells of memories for collecting, calm water moments for soaking, and the soothing sounds of comfort.

 

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          While we cannot create and sequence the so-called perfect a playlist or word-document of life, we can be open to the shuffle of it, the buffet of its opportunities, the ebb and flow of its waters; and in that openness, we can find songs of joy, words of praise, and a uniquely crafted, tension-filled story of adventure with its own dynamic soundtrack penned by the Ultimate Divine Hand of Creation offered to us with love.  

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveaffirmations101

 

           Life is unfolding and, well, shuffling, as it should.   I often forget this, but I know in my core, this is true.  And while I may never attain perfection in remembering this, I can work towards progress—progress of learning to accept, nibble, and even savor all the varied and unpredictable tastes life offers up.

 

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As seen on Instagram @ postiveenergyalways

A community to remember and honor

        “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”—Lao Tzu

        “wear blue: run to remember is a national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military. wear blue: run to remember creates a support network for military members and their families; it bridges the gap between military and civilian communities and it creates a living memorial for our country’s fallen military members. wear blue: run to remember exists for the fallen, for the fighting and for the families.”—excerpt from wearblueruntoremember.org

 

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       Aw . . .January . . .the month where many people begin or renew health and wellness goals.  Gyms, yoga studios, health clubs, and outdoor running/walking/biking paths are often overflowing with the vigor and excitement of New Year’s resolutions.  The gluttony of holidays is now replaced with better, healthier habits and goals.

 

 

 

 

        Personally, while I rarely, per se, establish New Year’s resolutions, I do find I have increased motivation and renewed excitement for my own personal health goals.  Additionally, I use the start of the New Year as a time to reflect upon my current habits and look for ways to refine, improve, and if needed, change/adjust current practices for physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.

        

        At one point in my adult life, running was part of my fitness regime, including running a local marathon to celebrate turning 50.  I loved that most races in which I participated benefitted a local charity, so that my training/running felt as if it served a purpose greater than my own personal gain. However, a back injury brought running to a quick and unforeseen hiatus.  While I dream of one day returning to the world of running, I fully recognize that most forms of movement, including walking, offer numerous benefits to the body, mind, and soul. Thus, I have learned to accept my current physical state and fully recognize that I still have the gift of life.  A back injury is a minor life setback compared to other more life-altering experiences. Still, I remember the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that followed the obligatory, once-per-week “long run,” that was part of any training plan/goal.

 

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Mindi Church Newell (left) smiles at sister-in-law, friend, and “cheerleader”, Sandy Mers, Coordinator of Ashland wear blue community, during the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C.this past fall–a true long run.

 

        Thus, when Sandy Mers, friend and Coordinator of the Ashland wear blue community, shared a video with me from TedxTacoma of Lisa Hallett, Executive Director & Co-Founder of wear blue: run to remember,I was reminded of those once-upon-a-time “long runs”. As Hallett described the back-story that ultimately forged the foundation of her group, I was moved to tears. She passionately portrayed the way in which running, in particular, her once-per-week long training runs with her community of friends, provided her with much needed support as well as a healthy outlet for her grief following the loss of her husband/ best friend/ father of their three children (one whom he never met), CPT John Hallett, “who was killed when his Stryker was attacked with an improvised explosive device in South Afghanistan” on August 25, 2009.   It is from these friend/community-supported runs that the wear blue running community evolved.  Yet, from what I can tell, it is so much more than running . . .

 

www.youtube.com/watch

 

https://www.armytimes.com/video/2018/12/27/who-will-remember/#.XDIPRoZZz0g.email

 

        In fact, Mers emphasized the importance of all participants, whether running or otherwise, in the group’s first local event held this past Saturday at Central Park in Ashland, KY.  12 people, according to Mers, convened 8:00 am at the 17th street entrance. Then, at 8:15, participants gathered in a celebration circle where they took turns reading the names of 51 military personnel killed in action during the dates of January 4-6 from 2001 to present.  Then, some participants ran, some walk/ran, others solely walked, and still others remained at finish line to cheer for each participant as he or she reached their goal destination. Despite the fact it is called a run, each participant, emphasized Mers, offered “a purposeful step” for the wear blue community.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Participants gather in a celebration circle for the inaugural wear blue: run to remember of the Ashland community.

 

        The Ashland community of wear blue established a distance of one mile for this inaugural event.  However, the goal for community members participating in the February “run” is two miles, and the goal for March is three miles—at which they plan to remain for future events, although Mers is not ruling out hosting longer events.   Of course, participants can always choose to do more, depending upon their training needs.

 

 

 

 

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        Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to participate in this first event.  That said, as I read about this movement, I found myself yearning to once more get out there on a running path, even if it means walking; and what better motivator than supporting, honoring, and remembering those who have served and sacrificed while in our American military. As the wear blue website states, the  “wear blue is an all-inclusive organization that actively strives to bridge the gap between the military and the community.”

 

 

 

 

        Therefore, I have joined the wear blue: run to remember Ashland community, which can be found on Facebook.  It is a public group that is open to all. Each “run” occurs on the first Saturday of each month at 8:00 am at Ashland Central Park, 17th street entrance with the celebration circle beginning at 8:15.  The next event will occur February 2. For more information/inquiries, outside of the Facebook page, email: Ashland.community@wearblueruntoremember.org

 

 

 

Images of Mindi Church Newell from the Marine Corp Marathon held annually in Washington DC.  Newell ran in honor and remembrance of her late husband, “Tuc” Church who was killed in action in May of 2007.

 

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         In the meantime, won’t you consider participating in February and/or other future events? There is absolutely no cost; and, best of all, your effort, whether walking, running, a combination of both, or cheering pays tribute to those service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice.  Plus, as icing on the cake, you’ll reap physical, mental, and perhaps spiritual benefits. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From the Facebook page of one survivor.

2018 Family Love and Reflections

           “Family is a unique gift that needs to be appreciated and treasured, even when they’re driving you crazy.  As much as they make you mad, interrupt you, annoy you, curse as you, try to control you, these are the people who know you the best and who love you.”—Jenna Morasca

           “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.”—Barbara Bush

 

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From Maddie, my daughter, and Johnny’s, my nephew, high school graduation party in 2017.

 

           I suspect there is a direct correlation with each increased year of age, but I cannot help but notice that I have a growing sense of appreciation for my family.  It is not as if I never before put value on my family, because I always have. However, like the warmth of the sun’s rays in winter versus late spring, the esteem with which I hold my family has likewise intensified; and, I further suppose will evolve in the same way spring’s warmth develops into summer’s heat.

           This past year, especially the holiday season, only convinces me more of the truth of this realization.  I more fully appreciate the gift of each year with my husband, John, now of nearly 30 years. Each moment with our daughter, Madelyn, in her second year of college, is more precious.  Conversations with my siblings and parents are also more cherished. Furthermore, I have a greater sense of loss with the passing of each friend and family member as, like my age, those numbers are also increasing.

 

 

 

           2018 was certainly a year of amplified awareness for me—an awareness of things left unsaid, words said in hasty anger, impulsive reactions, and/or a lack of action.  It seems time is flowing rapidly like our Ohio River after heavy days of rain; and, I am adrift on a log of emotions unable to reach the shore line.

           Thus, as the holiday season winds down, if you will allow me, Dear Reader, to indulge in a few lines of gratitude.  It is my hope that by sharing these thoughts with you, that perhaps you will join me in saying those words that need to be said; or, at the very least, begin to reflect upon the people Divine Providence has put in your own life.  

 

 

                      Images of my brother, Scott, and sisters, Traci and Rachel.

 

           To my brother, Scott, and sisters, Traci and Rachel, during the holiday season, I received the gift of seeing all of you! As stories were swapped and laughs were shared, I frequently heard tales of my childhood bossiness, although I prefer to think of it as my blossoming leadership skills!  “The kids,” as I thought of you, were in need of my guidance and advanced wisdom, I felt certain as a youth. Thus, while I am sincerely sorry for my pushiness, I hope each of you know that my actions were motivated from a sense of great love, pride, and protectiveness for you. I felt as if I was your third parent, and with that came a sense of responsibility for your well being—however misguided my intentions were.  I loved, and still love, each one of you. We share a unique history that bonds us like no other. You each formed me into a better person; and you each shaped/influenced the type of parent, teacher, and even writer, I am now. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

           To my nieces and nephews, while I was unable to see all of you, I was blessed to see six out of nine of you during the holiday season.  Furthermore, of the three great nieces/nephews, I was able to see one. What a blessing each of you are to our family and me! Each of you is bright, articulate, witty, and all possess beautiful and unique souls.  When I am around you, I feel energized, renewed, and full of hope for the future. May you continue to bless the world with your sense of humor, creativity, and raw honesty. I love each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

           Mom and Dad, while you were not a perfect match for one another, you each did the best that you knew how to do at the time.  I could have never managed to go to school, work, and raise four kids in my twenties; yet, you unbelievably did just that despite the obstacles! Each of you instilled within me the love of the written word, appreciation and drive for education, a strong work ethic, and a love of movement.  Mom, you gave me the gift of cooking and baking; while Dad, you gave me the appreciation for quiet time in the woods. Both of you also shared with me the love of the beach, the mountains, educational travel, and you tempered my leadership, aka bossy skills! I hope each of you know how very much I realize you sacrificed of your own happiness for us kids.  Your early adult years were not easy; and I was NOT an easy first child, but through your struggles I learned, and, even now, I continue to learn from you. I am more empathetic and sensitive because of you. I love you both; and, I am so glad you each are traversing your own paths of happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Maddie, my singular, miraculous, and marvelous child, you are truly a gift, not only to your Dad and me, but also to the world. Your quick smile, sensitive nature, and pure, honest soul heals and/or soothes all who come into contact with you.  I was, and continue to be, an imperfect mother that is for sure. However, from the moment you were born and our eyes met, I have felt a deep, abiding Iove and connection with you that is more fierce and true than I ever knew was possible until I became your mother. Furthermore, you are my greatest teacher—providing me with ample lessons of humility, strength, and fortitude.  I love you, and will continue to love you “to the moon and back again” as your Dad and I would assure you when you were quite young.

 

 

           

           John, you are my dear husband and truest friend.  From our very first conversation, I knew you were the love of my life.  As my greatest cheerleader, you have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, however crazy they may seem to others.  You believe in me—even when my inner-demons of unworthiness raise their ugly heads of doubt and fear. I know that when we join hands, we are an unstoppable team that is able to face down any obstacle or challenge that life swerves our way.  Our nearly thirty years together have not always been easy, but just like the pains of birth, nothing worthwhile is born out of ease. It is through our challenges that we have grown, and they have only deepened my love and appreciation for you. You are, and always will be, my north star.  

 

 

           

           Finally, to you, Dear Readers, who faithfully read my words as I struggle to derive greater understanding, deeper meaning, and more positivity from life, thank you for joining me.  Whether you are reading my writing for the first time, or you are a follower and regular reader of my blog, you motivate me to continue this writing exploration as amateur as it is.  Your feedback, kind emails, and unspoken energy fuel this writing exploration. It is my wish that maybe, just maybe, in some small way I add a form of encouragement, optimism, and/or light to your life.  

           Here’s to 2019 and all its lessons, promises, as well as realities it has to offer us.  Namaste.

 

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Photo by Sonam Yadav on Pexels.com

 

A Christmas Sort of Story, 2018

           Most people never really sat down and get to know a homeless person, but every homeless person is just a real person that was created by God and it is the same kinds of different as us; they just have a different story.—Ron Hall

           There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control.  We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.—Jan Schakowsky

 

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As seen on Instagram at sbtbreathe.

 

          We were tired, our bodies ached, and we were hungry.  Our school day started at 7:30. After school, I spent time with students in my “Elevate Writing and Arts” Club until 5:15 or so. Afterwards, I joined the other St. Joseph Catholic Middle School Teachers who were already busily working away to prepare and decorate our school gym for a Christmas movie themed dance for 6-8 grades at both our school and Our Lady of Fatima School.  Soon, the students began arriving.

           Overall, the dance went well.  Kids seemed to have a great time, there was plenty of food, and their Christmas movie themed costumes were phenomenally fun! All in all, we felt pleased that everything seemed to come together without a hitch.  

           Of course, once students were safely returned to their parents, there was still the clean-up process.  When all floors, decorations, tables, and so forth, were sufficiently returned, each to its proper place, we were able to lock up the school, and walk out of its doors sometime between 10:00 and 10:30 pm.

 

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Heading towards Roosters located at Pullman Square in Huntington, WV

 

           John, my husband and co-worker, asked me if I wanted to grab a bite to eat since we had not yet eaten dinner.   We were both too tired to cook, but wondered if there would be any late night eateries open. Sure enough, Roosters, in Pullman Plaza was open until midnight, and served food until 11:30.  It sounded perfect as it was only located a few minutes from our school.

           Once there, J’lisa Kelly-Walker was our server/bartender.  She was quick with a smile and possessed an easy-going, friendly demeanor.  We sat in the bar as that is where most patrons this time of evening were dining.  John ordered a sandwich, and I ordered a salad. While we were waiting, we shared pleasant conversation, despite our overall fatigue as we took in the people around us.

 

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Entrance to Roosters at Pullman Square in Huntington, WV

 

           Not long after we placed our order, a dapper looking gentleman sat at the bar beside us.  Dressed in a suit, he gave off the appearance of having just finished his workday as well.  He was unassuming, ordered his food, and seemed content to sit quietly as he waited. While J’lisa seemed to know him, perhaps he was a regular customer; she respected his desire for solitude.

           As a long-suffering people watcher, this man’s purpose seemed one of efficiency.   He talked into a wireless headset occasionally while reading on his phone. He courteously interacted with J’lisa, and received his food around the same time we received our meals; however, he did not engage in active conversation with her as we were doing. (J’lisa is a mom of three beautiful children, and we enjoyed chatting with her.)

 

 

 

           While we were finishing the last of our food, the reserved man beside us, who had already paid, quietly slipped away into the chilly night.   Ten or so minutes later, just after we had asked for our bill, I noticed the same man re-enter Roosters, but this time, he had another man with him. The other man was a pale, stark contrast to his well-dressed, black companion, as he looked a bit disheveled with a visible line of black beneath his nails.  His hair was in need of some TLC, but he was civil and peaceeable. The more distinguished man seated his companion in the same area in which he once sat, whispered to him, and then motioned for J’lisa to come over.

           It a minute or two past 11:30, as J’lisa cheerfully asked the seated man what he wanted to drink.  I could not help but notice J’lisa giving him not one, but two to-go cups filled with Mello Yellow soft drink.  Then, she met the unknown businessman at the opposite end of the bar as the man talked softly to her and then gave her his credit card.

 

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As seen on Instagram at positiveaffirmations101

 

 

            J’lisa walked to speak with what appeared to be a manager.  I overheard the manager say, “The kitchen closes at 11:30, and it is past that time.”

           J’lisa, not to be deterred, sweetly and sincerely, smiled, and urgently replied, “But they’re not shut completely down, the other man is willing to pay, the guy is hungry, and it’s cold outside.  See if they will do for me.”

 

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As seen on Instagram at positiveenergyalways

 

           Though he wasn’t mad, he certainly wore the expression of inconvenience, as he walked in the direction of the kitchen, and soon returned to whisper in J’lisa ear.  I watched in focused anticipation and baited breath as John asked me what was going on.

           “I’m trying to figure out if the restaurant is going to do the right thing.”

           “What?”

           “Shhh . . .”

           Admittedly, I was taking people watching to an extreme, but my heart had a vested interest in this unfolding drama.  I watched as J’lisa walked toward the bar. Was the credit card still in her hand? I couldn’t see it! Oh no! The suited gentleman began to walk toward the other man, leaned in, whispered, and patted his arm. The seated man nodded, and turned slightly towards the other with the appearance of disbelief.  Meanwhile, my heart pounded as I wondered if he going to be fed?

 

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J’lisa Kelly-Walker, student, mother of three, bar-tender/waitress, and kind person to ALL.

 

           Suddenly, J’lisa appeared, handed the businessman his credit card as well as the bill.  Another hungry, alone soul would have warm meal in his belly before another cold night on the streets. John and I quietly walked away, and I felt tears sting my eyes with gratitude for bearing witness to the Christmas spirit embodied in the actions of this one man, followed by J’lisa, the Roosters management, and kitchen staff.  

 

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Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

 

           What if the man who owned the Inn, had turned Mary and Joseph away all those years ago?  I am sure that they, too, were disheveled with dust/dirt-covered clothes and skin as they had travel for miles on a dirt road.  It is certainly worth remembering and contemplating.

P.S.  Thank you J’lisa, Rooster’s staff and management, and unknown man-of-action for inspiring this story.  It is my hope it will ignite others into simple acts of kindness, not only during the holiday season, but also throughout the year.  Finally, my wish for the hungry man at Roosters is that he may come to know peace, love, and compassion; and, most of all, may he one day no longer need to be at the mercy of others for food and warmth.

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As seen on Instagram at spiritualmovement

           

           

           

           

 

Present Moment Flow

“When you are here and now, sitting totally, not jumping ahead, the miracle has happened.  To be in the moment is the miracle.”—Osho

 

“Life is available only in the present moment.  If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“Mrs. Hill, why did you only record a part of our dance? You cut it off!”

 

Maanasa was laughing as she looked at me from around her computer screen.  Her bright eyes flickered earnestly.  She had been reading about the Tri-State India Association Diwali celebration of which she had been a part, and about which I had most recently written.

 

“I know I only videoed part of it,” I answered and returned to grading papers.

 

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Maanasa Miriyala smiles for the camera at the TSIA Diwali celebration.

 

It was lunchtime, and my classroom had become a study hall for those who would rather study, read, and/or begin homework than go to lunch/recess.  Usually, during this time of day, my classroom is fairly quiet with only the crinkling of food wrappers, the clickety-clicks of computer keyboards, the crunching sounds of food being chewed, and the whispers of students conferring over work. However, this was the last day before Thanksgiving break, there were very few students in my room, and no one was pressed with much homework.  Therefore, I had no problem with the on-going conversation.

 

Maanasa, who had been part of the TSIA celebration, was showing a few of her friends my blog, with special emphasis on her images and dance piece.  She had already spent time correcting spellings of names, which I appreciated; however, she was still in her teasing-critique mode when she lightheartedly made the comment about cutting short the video of her.

 

“But, there was more!”

 

“I know.  I cut off all the video recordings after a minute if you would take time to notice other dances that don’t involve you,” I teased back.

 

“Why?” she queried with a hint of playful indignation.

 

“Because, if I spent the entire song filming you, or any of the other dances, then I would not have been present in the moment.  I cannot enjoy and remember what I am seeing when I am focused on making a video—a video that wasn’t all that great anyway because I was too far from the stage.  While I wanted to record the event, I also wanted to savor the experience too.”

 

Maanasa tilted her head from side-to-side, as if truly contemplating my words, then emphatically stated, “Oh, okay then.”

 

She giggled and resumed talking to her friends as she explained Diwali to them, continuing to show them pictures from my blog.

 

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Maanasa Miriyala dances in the TSIA Diwali celebration.

 

I’m not sure what possessed me to explain my present-moment-philosophy to Maanasa, but it was the truth.  While I enjoy looking at photographs of past events, I am often terrible about remembering to take pictures unless I am doing it as part of a piece I am writing; and even then, my husband, John, usually has to remind me to take pictures as I often get lost in the moment.   That is not to say, I do not future-think or past-dwell; believe me, I do, but during certain moments, especially those deemed, “special,” I often try to soak in all the goodness as if basking in the sun, rather than use my phone to snap pictures.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

Likewise, I am often similarly guilty of doing the same thing with social media.  I have friends, and even family, who assume I know something about them because they posted it on a social media site.  When I confess that I have not seen their recent post, I feel both guilty and simultaneously selfish because they have seen that I have posted about something to promote my blog, yoga class, or students without taking time to look at their posts.  Then, I feel compelled to hop on social media and troll all the family and friends I have neglected, but then, I find, I am neglecting the conversation/event going on around me at the time.

 

It is a vicious cycle it seems to me, balancing the right here, right now moment, with staying connected to the world around me. I observe friends and family who appear to have the ability to successfully sit in social situations holding their phone as they appear to seamlessly navigate what is going on around them with what is occurring on their favorite media outlet.  In fact, I often feel inadequate that I cannot do that. Therefore, I try to be savvier like them, only to find I can neither fully focus on what is occurring around me, nor absorb what is occurring on the screen in front of me.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

Even before the advent of cell phones (Yes, there was life before then!), I can recall events that I probably should have photographed or videotaped, but did not. There were the routine moments, such as changing my daughter, Madelyn’s, diaper—the way her little arms and legs kicked as she would tried to vocalize along to the songs I sang to her.

 

Then, there were those silly life moments, such as the “naked baby game,” as John and I affectionately called it.  This was the time period when Maddie was a newly walking toddler, and I would bathe her.  Then, once out of the bathtub, John would be waiting at one end of the hall outside the bathroom with a fuzzy towel.  As I attempted to dry her with another towel, Maddie would  “escape” and run stark naked from me to John as he wrapped her up in a big ol’ towel hug. She would then giggle, wriggle, and writhe her “escape” from him and run back to me. Her antics continued as she ran between the two of us giggling with that infectious toddler hilarity that is only present for a short number of months.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

There are special moments, even further back, such as the night when I first met John . . .his smile, the way in which he talked to me as if I truly mattered . . .the yellow of his shirt, the way his sleeves were rolled up slightly . . . the sparkle in his eyes . . .

 

And still, there are older, precious memories with grandparents . . .drinking Tang from a green plastic cup with my Mamaw as we sat and watched the Rockford Files—her big belly laugh so good and pure.  The long fingers of my Papaw proudly wearing the green Ohio University sweatshirt for which I had saved money to buy him as he grabbed my hands, looked straight into my eyes with his ever twinkling, devilment look, as he said, “Now talk without those.” The strong, swollen, sure hands of my Grandmother . . .gripping my own hands tightly, not wanting me to leave her because she would miss me . . .”Stethie, your ol’ Grandmother loves you, you know that . . .”

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

Even earlier . . .the scent of my mom’s Estee Lauder perfume lingering in the air as I followed her around the kitchen, telling her about my day’s events as she let me help (perhaps hinder) her with dinner and laundry . . .the scent of my Dad’s freshly laundered shirt as a I snuggled closer to him on the couch as he read the Christmas story to my siblings and me on Christmas Eve  . . .the good baby scent of each and every one of my siblings as each shared a room with me when they were first born. . .their cooing, calling, or even crying sounds when they woke during night . . the light paddings of my Mom’s feet coming into the room to check on them . . .the warmth of their bodies beside me as I read to them at night . . .the emotional energy of our sibling rivalry and disagreements. . .

 

Window fans and summer nights

Fireflies flicker through curtain sheers

Sliver of light under closed bedroom door

Whispers and crickets

 Backdrop to sleep

 

Earth scented walks

 Carpeted with leaves

Red chapped cheeks and hands

Plaid purple jacket with hood

Winds a’blowin up good

 

Icy street, slip sliding along

“Hop on the Bus, Gus”

Is our favorite go-to-school song

 

Pungent aroma of spirea

Scenting signs of spring

Phlox creeping purple ‘round

My favorite hill rock sitting spot

 

Looking in window

Yearning to touch the past

Present moment is here

 Better hold on it while it lasts

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

I am not sure that I will ever be able to successfully navigate between the cyber world and the life occurring around me.  Maybe it is because I was born of another time, but given so many others my age, and older, successfully slide between the two worlds; it must be a personal flaw.  Nonetheless, my thoughts serve as a personal reminder to me, that memories matter, they have real weight and texture; and when one is truly present, more moments are added to the memory quilt of a life.

 

May this holiday season serve as a reminder that while it is valuable to photograph special moments, it is just as worthwhile to sit back, savor the sights, sounds, scents, touches, and tastes of the day, before the moment slips silently through time, never to occur exactly the same way again.

 

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Cheryl and Brooke Biddish Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

 

 

 

 

 

 

May we be a Light to One Another

“May the supreme light illumine your minds, enlighten your hearts, and strengthen the human bonds in your homes and communities.”—Unknown (As seen on Times of India)

 

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“What a life we have!” I exclaimed to John, my husband of nearly 30 years, as we sat down for a late evening dinner.

 

It was Saturday, and our workweek had been a whirlwind, but that evening had been spectacular.  I recalled a statement made by one of my friends, Christine, earlier in the day during a lunch get-together and found myself repeating her words to John.

 

“We are truly blessed.”  Then, I added, “No matter the bills, we are truly blessed.”

 

Of course, John, being his ever sarcastic, and realist self, retorted, “We’d be a lot more blessed, and could bless ourselves more, if we had everything paid off.”

 

 

While John and I do not know the ladies in the picture on the left, they graciously posed for our picture.  Right picture is of one of our former students, Ajay Neginhal, and his beautiful mother, Sapna.

 

While I felt both the humor and the reality of his comment, I continued to feel contemplative and inspired as we had just left the Tristate India Association’s Diwali celebration held annually at Cabell Midland High School.  As John and I both currently teach in the same school, many of our current and former students were performers in the evening’s festivities.  Additionally, several more students and staff were in the audience. The celebration was lovely, full of displays of generosity, positivity, love, and mutual respect.  I could not help but feel my heart overflowing with hope, optimism, and gratitude in spite of the realities of life.

 

 

 

         Former and current students gathered to celebrate Diwali.  Top to Bottom, then right: Emily Blatt, Naveen Joseph, Angelina Bir, Nishi Chowdhury, Maanasa Miryala, and Heidi Short.

As best I understand it, (I do not claim to be an expert, and I ask forgiveness from readers in advance, if I explain something wrong.) Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated yearly in either October or November, depending upon the Hindu lunar calendar. It is not only celebrated in India, but also in several other countries, including Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Fiji to name a few.  Additionally, it is not only commemorated by those of the Hindu faith, but also by Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists.  However, it is the basic tenant upon which Diwali symbolizes and honors that persons of all faith backgrounds can agree upon, “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.”

 

          The beautiful Bir family celebrate Diwali and insist on taking pictures with me.

In a world often filled with division, derision, and discord, Diwali appears, based upon my limited understanding, to focus on the sweetness and goodness of life that can be attained through a commitment to faith, family, education, work, and community.  Thus, as I looked around the auditorium and observed people of all faiths, not just Hindu, coming together respectfully and quite joyfully, I could not help but feel encouraged.  Hopeful for not only our daughter, but also for the students John and I have taught, past and present.

 

These adorable girls dance and celebrate Diwali with their family and friends.

 

 

 

      

The family-centered atmosphere delighted John and me, and we were especially amused by buoyant and excited children of all ages, vibrantly adorned.  We watched in awe as women of all ages, shapes and sizes, dressed the most vivid colors and sumptuous-looking fabrics, were honored and celebrated. Distinguished and dapper men of all ages, clad in colorful clothing, helped hold babies, patiently delayed performances for family members trying to change costumes, talked with the audience about the importance of giving back to the local community, and even turned up the lights for crying toddlers, who had become suddenly scared, when the house lights were dimmed for the performance.

 

 

     Left to right: Dr. Kalpana Miriyala, Dr. Pushpa Joseph, and Dr. Vinod Miriyala at the 2018 Diwali celebration.

Police officers, Tri-state dignitaries, and various community leaders were recognized, honored, or even given donations for their various works of charity.  Abundant, and seemingly endless, trays of what appeared to be traditional Indian foods were offered to guests for an hour or more before the start of celebration. Additionally, after the first song, performers walked off the stage and out into the audience offering small bits of food. Countless hugs, kisses, cheerful greetings, and affirmations could be heard throughout the evening.  I could not help but wish I could bundle all this positivity up, and send it out into the world, allowing it to envelop all of humanity with love and light, peace and patience, and an overall sense of community . . . the, we-are-all-in-this-together sort of attitude.  But alas, I am a sentimental, dreamer . . .

 

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Our student, Maanasa Miriyala, dances in a performance at the 2018 Diwali celebration.

 

 

One of narrators of the evening’s festivities, as he defined and explained Diwali to audience members, who, like myself, did not have a background, referred to the famous words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. He encouraged all in attendance to go out and be a light unto others, living the change we wished to see in the world.  This line, and its variations, is so often quoted, it sometimes falls on deaf ears.

 

 

Current students, Angelina Bir and Nishi Chowdhury, dance in a performance during the 2018 Diwali celebration.

 

On this evening of Diwali, however, my ears listened as Gandhi’s words rained over me. I was bearing witness to one group’s attempt to not only offer light, but also be the change they wished to see in the world. No, they were not trying to convert those of us of other faiths to their faith.  Rather, it felt as if the TSIA was demonstrating the understanding, tolerance, and dialogue that are possible when we concentrate first on the similarities we have with others, rather than focusing on the differences.

 

It was a beautiful evening with an even more beautiful lesson to be learned.

 

“From untruth lead us to Truth.

From darkness lead us to Light.

From death lead us to Immortality.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”—Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

 

 

More pictures from Diwali!

 

 

 

What is Play?

           “Play is the absence of stress.”–Poole

           “It’s okay to be absurd, ridiculous and downright irrational at times; silliness is the sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.”—Richelle E. Goodrich

           “Mrs. Hill, may we play with the yoga blocks and build “Bob” before we start?”  

           I looked up from the teaching notes I was reviewing to see a fairy-like student of my yoga club imploring me with her large brown eyes.

           “Of course, this is snack time.  We have about ten minutes before we start. Handle them with care please. They are not made of the most sturdy material,” I added with a chuckle, thinking of how the students are known to karate-chop “Bob” after they build him.

 

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Annie with “Bob” in mermaid pose.

 

           Yoga club is for students, grades 5-8, as well as any staff/faculty members of the school in which I work.  We meet one time per week for an hour and twenty or so minutes after the regular school day. The first 10-15 minutes is an open time to allow students, and any staff members that might also be joining us, to have time to change clothes, enjoy a snack if desired, chat a bit, decompress, and, well, even play before I guide a more formal, but still somewhat not-too-serious, yoga practice.

 

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Annie, Julie, Nicolas, Izzy, Lilly pose with “Bob,” they’re imaginary friend that they build with yoga blocks before yoga club. He is in mermaid pose, they tell me.

 

           It is during those unstructured moments that students are free to be kids.  I never know exactly what they are going to do during this time, and I am often reminded of my days teaching kindergarten in which my co-workers and I purposely planned time to allow the five and six years old to play with new materials before directing their use in more formal, so-called educational ways. Watching these now 10-13 year old students giggle, play with what they consider fun yoga poses, dance, and, of course, build with yoga blocks to create “Bob,” holding a variation of mermaid yoga pose, makes my soul smile—no matter how tired I am.  I so enjoy seeing kids using their imagination to simply play.

 

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Annie, Nicolas, Izzy, Isabella, and Julie strike their favorite variation of tree pose.

 

           Recently, a coworker/friend of mine and I were engaged in a quick conversation after school regarding the levels of stress and anxiety we now see in many of our students as well as our own children. It seems as if kids don’t have much free time to play—play without teams, without electronics, without extra curricular lessons . . .. In fact, we drifted off into our own memories of childhood play . . .

           Swing sets and hula-hoops,

           Roller skates and 45-records

           Spinning our favorite beats.

           

           Badminton, jarts, and croquet,

           Company was over last night–

           Play it our own way now.

           

           Baseball bat not used for sport,

           Might be a sword or a gun—

           Depending upon the tale spun.

           

           Stories told, roles assigned;

           Funerals for butterflies and birds—

           You got to be preacher the last time!

           

           Banana seat bicycle for him,

           Pink Schwinn with

           Flowered basket for her.

           

           Kick ball in the circle,

           Better not kick the ball in that yard.

           Rules might change, depending on players,

           Hope he doesn’t lose his temper once more.

           

           Frisbee’s on the roof again

           Why d’ja throw it there?

           Can we make a fort out of that box?

           

           Summer sun, autumn chill,

           Wintertime stands still.

           Spring car washes,

           Big Red Machine’s on the radio.

           

           Rook on the porch when it rains.

           Go outside and play.

           Stay until called for supper.

           Childhood memories of long ago.

 

           I wonder, how many of my students have ever ran around at night in the late spring catching fire-flies as the dew soaks their sneakers?  Do they ever get to ride their bikes around the neighborhood poppin’ wheelies and riding with no hands as the wind whips all around their faces?  What about playing neighborhood pick-up games of kickball, touch football, run-down, or monkey-in-the middle? Have they ever hung out on their front (or back) porch just to watch it rain?  

 

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Banana seat bicycle for him (or her). . .

 

           What about swinging with head held back until it feels like you’ll puke; and then, laugh at the feeling of butterflies in the stomach?  Or have they experienced that older cousin or neighbor who will play part friend, part devil, and push them on a swing high enough for the pusher to run under?  What about the rush of merry-go-rounds that the biggest kid of the grade pushes as fast as he or she can, then hops on at the very last breath-taking second! Then, there was tetherball, jumping-ropes, marbles, and pick-up-jacks— and all the different ways to define “King” or “Queen” in grade school.

 

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Merry-go-rounds that made kids’ heads spin . . .

 

           I can even recall, shock of all shocks, going outside on one recess while snow danced down around us.  I clearly remember Mrs. Jones, one of the beloved first grade teachers at my school, leading us (students) around the playground in a hand-held chain, snow gently falling, and calling it a game of “snake.”  There were slicky-slides of all heights, monkey bars of all styles, and even a few gymnastics-like apparatus’ that gradually began to be withdrawn from public and school playgrounds alike, year after year. Like the erosion of one’s favorite beach shoreline, you don’t really notice the changes until you see time-lapse pictures spanning the years, and little by little it is revealed the beachfront ebbing away, in the same way, the notions and toys of childhood play have also ebbed away.

 

Andrew, a seventh grader at SJCS, “play” with pie, and throws it at my husband, and fellow SJCS faculty member, John.

 

           To be honest, I suppose I have begun to reach an age of introspection as I begin to identify all the vast change I have witnessed over the decades—especially with regards to “play”.  As a person who, depending upon the definition used, is either the very last of the Baby-Boomer generation, or the very first of Generation-X, the changes of which I have observed, and of which I have experienced first-hand is, at-times, nearly unbelievable.  I cannot image what my parents must feel with their additional two decades of experience. And while change is an inevitable constant, the need for playtime, or at the very least unstructured, down time, I believe, will always be a need for all ages, but especially for kids.

 

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My great niece, Miss Luna, who loves the simple pleasure of play.

 

          While preparing to write this piece, I found the following quote by Alan W. Watts, “This is the real secret of life—to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now.  And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” Maybe that is the lesson my yoga club kids were, and are, teaching me.  Play is always available, and is always a choice. It may look differently now, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be play—it’s all about the attitude brought to it.   Even more so, maybe that’s why my brain “played” with this idea—to beautifully illustrate—that I, too, am playing each week with a screen-full of words, hoping to discover “playmates” in which these words will resonate.

 

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My EW (Elevate Writing) Club “play” with words, like me, each week! The stories they create are certainly playful as they laugh, goof-off, rib one another, share inside jokes, and so forth, in the new form of technological type of play.

           

           

           

 

Grounded in Gratitude

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           “Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.”—Steve Goodier

 

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           “But it turns out that people who are grounded and secure don’t change much under stress.  That’s what being grounded means.”—Michael Gruber

 

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“You need grounded,” Amy Vanhorn said to my daughter, Madelyn.  “Get outside. Go barefooted.  Get grounded.”

 

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My husband, John, and I had left immediately on a Friday at the end of our school day at St. Joseph Catholic School, where we both work, in order to make the four-hour drive to Bethany College where Madelyn is attending.  It was Dad’s weekend for our daughter’s sorority, Alpha Xi Delta.  However, Maddie and John had both insisted that I also tag along, and make it a family visit.

 

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Amy VanHorn, and her husband, Keith, had invited us to stay at their home, which is less than a five-minute drive from Bethany.  Amy’s daughter, Eden, is a friend of Maddie and also in the same sorority.  We gratefully accepted this invitation to save the trips and time driving up and down the mountainous, curvy, and car-sickness inducing roads traveling to and from the nearest hotel in Wheeling, WV about 30 minutes away from Bethany.

 

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The week had been exhausting.  John and I are finding that while we still love working during our 5thdecade of life, it seems we are never able to get enough rest.  Our recovery time isn’t what it used to be, and although we still get around six to six and half hours of sleep at night—which used to be plenty in our thirties and forties—it is no longer enough.  Still, we keep pushing through fatigue and forging ahead, ever grateful for our jobs.  Furthermore, that Friday had been filled with Halloween celebrations at our school.  Students were amped, and a large portion of the day was filled with the typically loud, stimulating celebrations that go hand-in-hand with the spirit of the holiday.

Personally, I emotionally struggle with Halloween. I find our society’s obsession with the holiday upside down.  I know, I know, it’s all about fun and frivolity, making me sound like a grumpy old lady. To be certain, I certainly enjoyed the holiday as a young child, but once I hit seventh grade, it was no longer an important event in my life.  However, this holiday has since developed into a multi-million dollar industry with all ages celebrating it for days on end.  Thus, when I look at all the millions of dollars and countless hours spent on candy, costumes, as well as decorations, and when I think of all the other beneficial ways the money and our collective focus could be used, it leaves me feeling not only a bit icky, but conflicted and out-of-sorts.  Therefore, this only added to my level of energy drain.

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Upon arriving at Bethany, we stopped by Maddie’s dorm to pick her up before heading to the VanHorn home.  She would be joining us for dinner.  Amy had suggested that we go to Dovetail Fire and Ale in nearby Wellsburg, WV, a local, family-owned and operated restaurant. (Which, by the way, John and I highly recommend!)

 

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“We love to cook, but not on Fridays, especially after an exhausting week like this past one,” Amy explained.

 

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We completely understood, and after hugs, greetings, and an exchange of a few pleasantries, we all hopped in Keith’s new, roomy truck and headed to the restaurant around 8:00 pm.  The restaurant’s atmosphere was comfortable and casual allowing all of us to relax our tired bodies and enjoy each other’s company.

 

It was during the early minutes of our conversation that Amy began advising Maddie to ground herself outside regularly to fight the stress and anxiety of college life.  I found myself agreeing as my mind drifted to earlier in the week . . .

 

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It was moments before the sun began to rise; the sky had blossomed with a harvest full of fruit colors:  cantaloupes, peaches, and rosy, pink apples. The inky black outlines of the graceful willows in our yard were in the foreground of these expanding colors as birdsong filled in the background.  I stood mesmerized in the open-door area of the garage holding my bags for school.  I breathed in the chill of the crisp air, both of my feet planted firmly on the concrete.  My heart yearned for more time.  Time to watch, time to breathe this moment into my body, time to fully feel all the gratitude of this heavenly touch at the start of my day.  Yet time tick-tocked onward, and I needed to move if I was to make it to school on time.  Thus, the sands of my hourglass slipped through this holy moment, not allowing it to be savored in a manner it so rightly deserved.  I took one more deep breath, drank in the lovely peacefulness, and packed my wares into my vehicle, making my way to school as the moment continued on without my presence.

 

 

Amy was right; not only for Maddie, but also for me.  I need grounded. We all benefit from time spent out of doors, but especially me.  My soul, my heart, my spirit needs it, and I have not been making time for it. God is there in nature, whispering soft words of love, understanding, and healing while painting seasonal images of Divine magnificence.

 

 

 

As I awoke Saturday morning, I soaked up all the “grounding” opportunities I could find.  I walked around the VanHorn property listening to the birds, their rooster, the snufflings of their horses, the cluckings of their chickens, and the pitter-patter of a cool, autumn rain.  Later, John and I drank-in the wonder of our daughter and her gentle friend, Ben, as we walked through the continual mist, across Bethany campus, listening to the swishing sounds of our feet traipsing over damp yellow, brown, and red leaves.  Then, we warmed up with coffee made with love by Ms. Linda, campus mom to many, at The Hub, Bethany’s coffee shop.

 

 

Afterwards, we parted ways with Ben, and Maddie blessed us with time alone with her as she gave us a personal tour of her daily haunts.  From the Robert Richardson Hall of Science, where Maddie currently takes three different science courses, to the Office of the University President where Maddie works several days per week; and on to the Art Building, where Maddie’s eyes twinkled as she shared several works of her own design as well as works of other students and professors.  I bathed in the gift of each moment.

 

 

 

 

Finally, we made the journey towards stadium and the tailgating event hosted by her sorority.  The fall air continued to kiss our cheeks, the light rain incessantly baptized us, and joy of time spent with someone you love enveloped us with warmth in spite of the chilly, damp air.

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Sounds of music and laughter offered a new backdrop.

Silly smiles. Serious smiles.

Poses held for photographic memoirs.

Sweet, sweet, time.

Grateful heart, overflowing with love and pride.

God’s goodness all around.

Centered by family love.

Surrounded by a Divine embrace.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Blessing abound.

Grounded in the gift of the moment.

 

 

 

P.S.  Thank you, Keith and Amy VanHorn, for taking time from your busy schedules to assist in this much-needed moment.  (I wish I would have thought to have taken your picture while I was there!)

MUCH love and appreciation to our beautiful daughter, Madelyn, for taking time away from her social obligations and course studies to be present with Mom and Dad for a few hours.

How Long Does it Take to Make a Life?

           “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”—Rabindranath Tagore

           “We’ve had bad luck with our kids—they’ve all grown up.”—Christopher Morley

           “The world is going to hell in a handbasket,” was an expression from my childhood that I often overheard grown-ups use that I never quite understood at the time.  Of course, now, as an adult, I certainly understand those sometimes-still-stated words. In fact, I’ve even been known to think it a time or two! Then, I go to work, see the kids, and rethink that phrase.

 

           I have been blessed with an amazing career—education.  I became a certified (now licensed) teacher, unbelievably, at the age of 21; naively thinking I would set the world on-fire!  Now, thirty-one years later, I realize, it is the opposite. It is the kids, as well as my own daughter, that have continued to ignite and inspire my own inner fire.  They give me hope that, well, maybe, just maybe, society, as a whole, is not doomed to a fiery abyss.

           While I have had the privilege of working in several wonderful schools, my current place of employment is St. Joseph Catholic School.  One of the unique qualities of this school is that our students’ ages range from 6-weeks (daycare) to preschool age, as well as from Kindergarten to grade 8.  While I spend most of my time with students in grades sixth through eighth, I do have occasional opportunities to indirectly encounter and interact with younger students, such walking through the halls, attending our weekly mass (church-service), and during school-wide events such as assemblies, the upcoming pumpkin drop, and so forth.   Additionally, there are school-families, one of, if not my favorite, cross-grade activity.

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Many of our SJCS middle school students “dressed down” (not in school uniform) in pink to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research.

 

           Arranged differently each school year by our administrators, a school family is one or two students per grade from each K-8 grade level paired with a teacher or instructional aide.  Then, throughout the school year, special activities are specifically planned to be completed as a school family. When these activities occur, middle school students are asked to gather the younger students, K-5, and lead them as a group to their assigned staff member.  Then, the staff member helps facilitate the activity.

           Benefits of school family activities are numerous, including fostering positive and appropriate communication, increasing empathy and understanding, encouraging team-building and problem solving, as well as an opportunity for leadership and role-modeling for the older students to name a few.   As a teacher, school families allow me to see students as kids—the whole child, not just the student-side.  Furthermore, it puts me in touch with wonder—the unbridled joy and enthusiasm with which children view the world!

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Painted pumpkins drying in my classroom–a product of school family day activity.

 

           Recently, staff and students at SJCS took a break out of our regular daily schedule for our first school family event.  I individually talked to each member of the middle school students in my family—Caleb, Hope, and Carson–regarding my expectations for them.  As I talked to Caleb, Hope and Carson individually, I tried to be both cheerleader and guide. All three students responded with nods of agreement, yet I still wondered if they would step up and own the full leadership potential I saw within each one.  It would only take minutes to discover my answer.

           The two kindergarten students tentatively entered my classroom holding Hope’s hand.  First and second grade students burst through the doorway vibrating with liveliness, two of the *four kids, holding onto Carson’s hands. Lastly, walking politely and energetically came the third, fourth and fifth grade students with Caleb in the center, smile spreading widely across his face.  As I assembled the group around a table set up with supplies to paint pumpkins, I could not help but feel a sense of pride for the middle school students as they assumed their role as caregivers and leaders.

 

           Natural conversation ensued as the painting began.  It never ceases to amaze the ease with which younger kids can engage one another with little to no apparent bias, judgment, or preconceived notions.  Further, I love the way in which the little guys can fully embrace their task with a can-do attitude. By middle school, most students have lost part, and sadly sometimes all, of that openness.  Thus, it is good for the middle school students to observe and once more be around that genuine spirit of all-is-possible.

 

 

           Once painting was completed, I allowed students the freedom to draw, talk, and even read to one another, although one student read simply chose to read to himself.  The conversations grew more animated. I walked about the room hopping in and out of the chatter, taking pictures, and overall soaking up the sweetness of the moment.  Then, my ears perked up.

           “How long did it take you to get to middle school?”   

           It was a second grader, his face intently and earnestly gazing at Hope, a seventh grader.  I couldn’t help but smile and inwardly chuckle; and from the look of Hope’s face as well as the twinkle of her blue eyes, so was Hope as she tried to explain the math to him.  His question stuck with me though.

 

 

           How long did it take to get to year 31 of my teaching career?  How long did it take for my own child to grow up and move on to college? How long did it take for my husband, John, and me to arrive at nearly 30-years of marriage?   How long, how long, how long . . ..

 

      

     The older I get, the more precious time and life become, and yet still, I move through each day more likely than not, forgetting that life is short.  Like that slice of Grandmother Helen’s decadent brownie I can never recreate as much as I try, or Mamaw Musick’s beloved sugar-laden, thick-crusted apple pie that John swears was the best, life must be savored because it too will soon be gone as quickly as a fork being placed across an empty dessert with only a few crumbs of memory left.  

           Isn’t it ironic that some of the most important life lessons are presented in the form of child’s question?

  

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Just as I savored and enjoyed this rare treat, life must be savored too. (Thank you Paradise Donuts for creating a Gluten-Free Donut that doesn’t make me sick!)

         

 

Rise up

          Author’s note to reader: This was not easy to write, and I realize by sharing a story so personal that I risk offending and/or losing readers.  Further, I do not write this to change minds, but rather to offer additional insight.  I am NOT promoting one political party or position.  Instead, I am sharing how one short-term experience with trauma forever impacted me.  I cannot begin to imagine what other victims of long-term abuse, violation, and/or suppression have experienced and been impacted.  My hope is that readers begin to see there truly are faces behind statistics, and that the other “you” is a real person.

 

lighted candle
Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

 

           “Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and everyone of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.”—Pope Francis

 

           I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but my mind, heart, and soul are a swirling with questions.  As I type this early Sunday morning, I am reflecting over events of my lifetime, events of recent years, and current headlines.   I am one who rarely speaks to topics of controversy, but my heart and soul are urging me, an ordinary person, to share my story in order illustrate why there is often a great divide.

           I am but one person, one voice, and one point of experience.  I am not naive enough to think my thoughts will impact the world in a big way.  However, as I sat this past week in Morgantown overlooking the Monongahela River, I observed a random leaf drift down onto the chocolate-milk-colored water.  As soon as the leaf alighted upon the river, it created a wave that reached the shore. That is my hope for these words—they will resonate and/or increase understanding/empathy within a person or two.  

 

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As seen in a presentation by Sheri Wohlfert, Keynote Speaker at recent Professional Development for educators.

 

           “Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’”—St. Josemaria Escriva

 

           As a child I often received spoken and unspoken rules from a male-dominated society.  Some of these messages included:

            “It’s not good for a woman to be too smart.  She won’t get a husband.”

           “Women should only be nurses, teachers, or secretaries; otherwise, they are taking work away from a man.”

           “Women who wear _______________ (short skirts, low-cut blouses, high heels, and so forth.) are asking for ‘it.’” (What “it” was, I never understood as a kid.)

                       “Women who go to a/n ______________  (bar, restaurant that serves alcohol, empty street, boy’s house, and so forth.) alone are asking for ‘it’.”  (Again, I did not know what “it” was, but I sensed “it” must be bad.)

 

           As a youngster, I questioned the validity of these messages.  In fact, I questioned most everything, including my own family rules. I am sure I drove my parents crazy because “why” seemed hard-wired into my child-brain.  My siblings have often told me they learned from me, mostly due to my frequent bouts of “punishments,” including getting my mouth washed out with soap on more than one occasion, the rewards of not talking back.  Still, I kept speaking out, questioning. Then, I learned the hard way, not everyone cares what you have to say.

 

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Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

 

           I was an older teen when it happened. How it exactly happened, I am unsure.  Just as I cannot tell you the dates or the exact words I said as a kid to get my mouth washed out with soap, I only remember the bitter taste of the soap, so too is this memory.

           The shag carpet of the staircase in my face, and pain exploding in my body.  I said, “stop”, but the carpet was in my face. The pain was like no other. The carpet fibers chafed my tear-stained cheeks as I continued to say, “No.” The pain continued to explode as my voice fell on deaf ears.  Shame filled my mind. Can. Never. Tell. Must. Not. Ever. Tell. It. Must. Be. My. Fault. Hurt, hurt, hurt.

           I do not remember how I got home. I only remember the bathroom, lying on the cool linoleum, overcome with pain and shame that would not go away, and continually sobbing. Must. Not. Tell.   

           I remember him.  He is clear as the taste of Dial soap, but I don’t recall the date or many pertinent details.  Most days, I don’t think of him or the event. Most days, I have moved beyond that event, and even forgiven him because he was (and is) a product of the times in which we were raised. However, I can now recognize how that event forever changed me, changed the way I perceived my voice, created fears and inner demons within me, and planted seeds of mistrust of others and myself that have taken decades to acknowledge and understand.

 

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As seen in a presentation by Sheri Wohlfert, Keynote Speaker at recent Professional Development for educators.

           “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”—Mother Teresa

 

          These past two weeks though have brought much of it back: the nightmares; feelings of shame; the knot in my stomach; and the feeling of being powerless.  The talking heads of society that mock, ridicule, and/or hide behind positions of power often remind me of the same vitriolic attitudes I sensed so long ago–those attitudes and “rules” I once questioned as a kid.  I feel those same questions begin to rise once more as bile rises when one begins to get sick. And, yet, my faith and personal disposition at age 53, remind me that I must move beyond the hate, the judgment, and acridity of headlines.  Therefore, I choose to use my voice, my words, and my thoughts to promote change; and, I do this with the full love and support of my husband and daughter.

 

 

 

 

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As seen in a presentation by Sheri Wohlfert, Keynote Speaker at recent Professional Development for educators.

 

           “Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing.  Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.”—Pope Francis

 

           I say, not just to women, but also to all victims of oppression, cruelty, and repression: Rise up.  Let your voices be heard in government, churches, businesses, educational institutions, corporations, social media, news outlets, and all other forms of societal groups.  Tell your stories. Be quiet no more. Act upon your words and beliefs. Work to bring about change. Uplift and support others. Watch and protect one another. Do not dwell on past events; but rather, use them as a point of motivation.  

           Most of all, now, more than ever, embrace an attitude of hope, rather than defeat.  For it is by embracing hope that we are motivated to work towards a future of change—a tomorrow that, albeit, may never be perfect, but can be filled with progress—progress toward a path in which ALL voices can be heard/seen; positions/institutions of power and policies can be questioned; and the content of character matters more than media image, political party, bank account size, or special interest affiliation.   

           “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”—Jeremiah 29:11

 

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As seen in a presentation by Sheri Wohlfert, Keynote Speaker at recent Professional Development for educators.

           

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As seen in a presentation by Sheri Wohlfert, Keynote Speaker at recent Professional Development for educators.