Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Let me Tell you a Story: Part 3

Conger Design via Pixabay

Welcome to Wednesday story time! We left off last week with Angel waking up to find her Bible study group in her hospital room. 

Merrilee nudged Thea and Gwen just as Rebecca caught Angel's eye. "Surprise!" they whispered.

Angel began to giggle and, once she started, she couldn't stop. Pushing herself up, she settled into a sitting position, then held her arms open to the group. 

Rebecca was the first one to the bed."Congratulations!" She bent down and hugged Angel, and Gwen, Merrilee, and Thea followed suit.

Nora stood and joined the group gathered around the bed, her item heels clicking on the polished floor. "Congratulations, Angel. I'm sure that you'll be a wonderful mother."

"Oh, I know she will," Gwen said.

"Welcome to the club." Merrilee held out two blue gift bags, each the size of a bed pillow.

Nurse Ramona poked her head into the room. "I thought I told you ladies to let Mrs. Alessio rest." Her warm brown eyes contradicted her stern tone.

Angel held up one of the bags. "It's okay. They came bearing gifts."

"Well, they'd better have. Are you ready to nurse your little man?"

Angel nodded. "And I'm sure everyone would love to meet him."

Thea grinned and winked at Angel. "Of course. You didn't think we came just to see you, did you?"

"All right, then," Nurse Ramona said. "I'll give you ladies a few minutes and then I'll bring him in."

Merrilee pulled a candy bar with a blue bow around it from her purse and handed it to Ramona. "Thanks for taking care of Angel."

The nurse stood up a little straighter. "Well, that's what I'm here for. And this little lady has the makings of a wonderful mama. I wish everyone who came through here had as much love as she does." 

Ramona took the candy bar from Merrilee's outstretched hand. "My Weight Watchers meeting was last night," she said with a grin. "Your timing is perfect." She tucked the candy bar into the pocket of her uniform and started for the door. "Now don't you ladies tire her out too much."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Merrilee said.

Nurse Ramona patted her pocket and walked out into the hall.

"Was that a bribe so we could stay longer?" Rebecca said.

"Not at all," Merrilee said. "There's one in every maternity ward. Isn't there, Thea?"

"Oh, yes. I'll bet she earned a case of those chocolate bars. She's the one, isn't she, Angel? The one who brought you ice chips and took care of Jim and screened your visitors?"

Angel was stunned. "How did you know?"

Gwen took Angel's hand. "Like Merrilee said, there's one in every maternity ward. Mine was named Amanda."

"Marianne," Thea said.

GDJ via Pixabay

"Esmeralda," Merrilee said.

"You're kidding," Rebecca said.

Merrilee shook her head and sat gingerly on the edge of Angel's bed. "There's something special about nurses in Labor and Delivery. They hand you that baby...." 

Thea nodded. "And you think, 'What am I supposed to do with this?'"

Tears of relief filled Angel's eyes. "You mean that's normal?"

"Of course!" Merrilee said.

"Just wait'll you get him home," Gwen said.

"Call us," Thea chimed in. "Any time."

Gwen sat in the chair. "You simply can't believe they're going to release you from the hospital without an instruction manual, a pop quiz -- something to prove that you're qualified to take this baby home without medical supervision."

"But you are," Merrilee said. "You'll figure him out."

"And then he'll figure you out!" said Gwen.

"Hey!" Rebecca surveyed the teary-eyed group. "Aren't you going to open your presents?"

"Oh!" Angel said. "I almost forgot!"

Wondering what these characters look like? 

Check out the "What My Characters Might Look Like" board on my Lisa's Books Pinterest board.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Janet Jackson, Stephen Covey and the Serenity Prayer
Anyone else feeling grumpy? I am beginning to annoy myself -- I can only imagine how my family feels.

Over the weekend, it occurred to me that it was a matter of control. I feel a profound sense of frustration over everything that's going on. Specifically, I'm angry and upset that my health depends not only on the choices I make, but on the decisions other people make. These feelings have triggered a sense of helplessness that I was unintentionally combatting by trying to re-establish control wherever I could.

In other words, I was minding everyone else's business. 

It's a counseling truism that we can control only ourselves. Most of the time, I accept this and am not frightened by it. 

Right now, however, is not most of the time but still, the statement remains true. I can control only myself. I can attempt to influence, educate, enlighten, persuade or even strong-arm others, but I can't control them. I can't make them do anything, whether it's folding the towels the way I like them, respecting the decisions I make without rolling their eyes, or letting me teach from the safety of my home.

Clearly, some of these things are more important than others, but the path to dealing with all of them is the same. Embrace the Serenity Prayer: accept the things I cannot change, change those I can, recognize the difference...

...and stop tilting at windmills. Or grimacing at the towels.   

Yesterday, I sat down and put some Stephen Covey knowledge to work. I sketched out my circles: my circle of concern and my circle of influence, reminding myself for the umpteenth time that there is no circle of control. I can expand my circle of influence by controlling the things in my own little corner of the world, but I can't wave a magic wand and turn it into a circle of control. 

Franklin Covey

Drawing it all out and writing all my concerns down was cathartic. But it was also depressing. I can impact my own feelings of control by the actions I take and the decisions I make, but that's about as good as it gets.

Alrighty, then. Let's focus on that. 

So next, I jotted down what I do have the power to do. Again, it didn't make me omnipotent, but that's a lot of responsibility anyway. But it tilted things back into balance.

The list reminded me of something else I know but have shoved aside. I need to channel my energy into the things I can influence and stop wasting it on stupid stuff like worrying about what someone else will think. Similarly, I need to step back and let some things go because that, too, will increase my energy reserves for this battle.  

As Janet Jackson said, "This is a story about control." I can own it, or I can let it own me. One is infinitely more exhausting than the other. Recognizing the theme of the story has left me feeling lighter and, ironically, more influential. 

Even if there are still big things I cannot change.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Friday Feature: Don't Tell Me How to Retire

Eight years ago, I made a decision that turned my life upside down and stunned a lot of my friends. At the ripe old age of 51, I retired from my career in public education.

At the time, I knew I wasn't finished working; I was just closing a door on that particular chapter of my professional life. I had no idea what lay ahead, nor could I have predicted that I'd land in a second career, closely related to the first, that I'd love just as much. 

It didn't take me long to discover that this is how retirement looks for a lot of people. While researching a book sometime in my first year of retirement, I discovered the concept of encore careers -- a new career carved out in the second half of adulthood. Sometimes an encore career is related to the first career, as mine is; other times it's the fulfillment of a dream that seemed too impractical to follow in early adulthood.

The point is that this is not our fathers' retirement. For many people, retirement now has less to do with travel and sitting on the front porch than staying active and following new roads. For some, this emerges out of economic necessity, for others, it's the fulfillment of long-held dreams or side hustles pursued during the years of holding down a "real job." For many, it's both.

Next Avenue's "Don't Tell Me How to Retire" (love the title!) looks at how the mainstream definition of retirement is changing and how people like me (an anomaly to most) actually fit right in. 

I like to joke that I retired, but it didn't take. I guess that all depends on how you define retirement.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Let Me Tell You a Story, Part 2

On Monday, I started sharing the original first draft of a sequel to Casting the First Stone, written almost immediately after I finished the book because I missed my characters. Later, this draft (which I found while cleaning out my files this summer) was replaced by the official sequel, Chasing a Second Chance. While I'm happy with the sequel, I still like aspects of this one because it features scenes that show characters in a different light.

There are lots of differences between the two versions, and I renew my offer to enter anyone who points them out (on my Facebook page, please) into a drawing to win a Kindle copy of the final book in the series, due out later this year. 

Or you can just read for fun.

Starting next week, I'll post a regular blog post on Mondays and the next installment of Casting2 (I'm as wonderful as ever with titles!) on Wednesdays until I run out of material. I'm also happy to hear your suggestions for an actual title for this project. I have one bouncing around in my head, but it hasn't gelled yet :-)

So, where were we? Oh, yes. Angel was in her hospital bed and Nurse Ramona had just taken baby Adam to the nursery. 
Angel lay back against the pillows and adjusted the bed again. And just how was she supposed to figure Adam out? She'd practiced with her dolls as a child, but they hadn't cried or squirmed and, when she'd rocked them and fed them, she'd done it just right. She'd been thinking about the kind of mother she wanted to be for as long as she could remember, but it wasn't as though she'd had a mother to show her how it was done. At least not since she was five.
She closed her eyes, knowing she should take Nurse Ramona's advice and sleep. The long labor had left her exhausted and dehydrated, yet all she could think of was everything that needed to be done. Adam had arrived two weeks early, before the crib she and Jim had special-ordered for the nearly finished nursery had shown up. When they'd built the house, Angel had decorated the nursery in shades of yellow but, in her seventh month of pregnancy, she'd decided that a little boy's room should look like it belonged to a little boy. Two weeks ago, Jim had painted the moldings pale blue and added a chair rail border of teddy bears with blue bow ties but the matching valances, which also had to be special-ordered, hadn't arrived yet either.
And then there were the birth announcements. Had Jim remembered to call the printer? And if he'd called instead of going in person to check the proofs, would the announcements say Adam James Alessio, 6 lbs. 7 oz., born at 4:35 a.m., or would there be a misprint?
Angel closed her eyes, fighting both the siren song of sleep and the overwhelming urge to pick up the phone. She really should call Marita to see if Charli was all right. Jim's thirteen-year-old daughter had been at the house last night when Angel's water broke, and she'd insisted on going along to the hospital before calling her mother. When they'd arrived, Angel had been whisked into a suite in Labor and Delivery so quickly and her contractions had started so suddenly that she'd lost track of time, and of Charli, who'd been hustled wide-eyed by Nurse Ramona out of L & D and down to the cafeteria. Marita had arrived within minutes to pick Charli up but neither Jim nor Angel had heard from Charli or Marita since. 
Marita. How on earth had she done this alone? She'd been only seventeen when Charli was born. How had she managed to stop her from crying, snuggle her in blankets, soothe her when she was upset? At thirteen, Charli was a wonderful, kind, well-adjusted young lady, thanks almost entirely to Marita. Meanwhile, Angel couldn't even get Adam to stop crying.
Maybe talking to Merrilee would help. And Thea. Thea had joked about going running to get away from her kids. Surely she'd not only understand Angel's fears, but inject some humor into the situation as well. Come to think of it, Nurse Ramona reminded her a little of Thea.
But she only saw Thea and Merrilee at Bible study. When would she get back to that group? And what was she supposed to do in the meantime?  
Angel drifted off to sleep, lists and concerns colliding with her dreams until hushed voices crept into them, nudging her awake.
"Now I'm trusting you ladies to stay quiet in here. I finally got her to close her eyes a couple of hours ago, so she should be waking up any time but I want her waking up on her own." Nurse Ramona's starched uniform rustled as she passed by the bed. "I'm going to get that little man and bring him in here. If I hear so much a whisper out of you all when I'm coming back down the hall, you won't be meeting that child on my watch."
Angel smiled, not quite ready to open her eyes and see who Nurse Ramona was scolding. She knew by now that Nurse Ramona's bark was completely harmless, but she doubted that her visitors did. 
The door clicked shut and Angel opened her eyes. Her Bible study group was gathered quietly in the corner of her room. Merrilee had her hand up to her mouth, stifling the laughter her eyes betrayed. Thea stood with her hands on her hips, and Gwen looked absolutely terrified. Rebecca was bent over listening to Nora, who was seated in the room's only chair, and who looked as though she'd have given Nurse Ramona a piece of her if the nurse had stayed even a moment longer.  

Monday, August 3, 2020

Let Me Tell You a Story, Part 1

Since I didn't teach this summer, I've had time to do some long-overdue de-cluttering of not only surfaces, but drawers and files as well. In one file drawer, I came across a folder I'd all but forgotten about.

The first three chapters of a sequel to Casting the First Stone.

Wait, my loyal readers are saying. Didn't I already read that?

Yes. And no. If you read Chasing a Second Chance, you read the official sequel. What I found in a fat, yellow file folder was the first three chapters of a first pass at a sequel, written long before I was invested in a sequel, but just after I'd finished Casting the First Stone. 

Apparently the characters wouldn't leave me alone then either.

The chapters made it through my critique group, which means the file includes pages with notes from friends whose lives have taken them in different directions, away from our meetings. Though they're no longer a part of our group, I still take their comments seriously so, as I share this story with you, their comments will make the end product stronger, as usual.

As I put the finishing touches on the third and final book in the MAC (Marita/Angel/Charli) series, it seems appropriate to spend some time talking about those ladies and their friends. So, inspired by Barnes and Noble's Serial Reads, I decided to share the unfinished story here (complete with edits inspired by my critique group) until I run out of material (unlike Barnes and Noble). 

There are differences between this draft and Chasing a Second Chance. If you catch one (and some are obvious!), post it in the comments on my Facebook page. The first person to post each difference will be entered into a drawing to win a Kindle copy of Courting Peace, the final book in the series. 

And so, without further ado, the (mostly) uncut, definitely untitled, first draft of my sequel to Casting the First Stone.

Angel Alessio looked down at the tiny, blue-blanket-wrapped bundle that lay wiggling in her arms, his face cherry red. She brushed hot tears off her face and kissed him on the forehead, then lay back against the pillows propped up at the head of her hospital bed, adjusting the slant for the third time in ten minutes. 
"Okay, Adam. Why can't I make you stop crying? Isn't that something mommies are supposed to be able to do?"
"Here, honey. I'll take him." Nurse Ramona pulled Adam from Angel's arms before she could protest. Tall and substantial, Nurse Ramona had kept Angel well-stocked with ice chips and pillows during her thirty-six hour labor, and always seemed to be there when Angel needed her. Angel wondered if she ever went home. 
"Why won't he stop crying? And why can't I swaddle him as tightly as you can?"
Swaddle. It was a funny word and, whenever Angel said it, she thought about baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Angel frowned. Mary hadn't needed Nurse Ramona to bail her out.
The nurse finished wrapping Adam in his blanket, then picked him up. "Honey, when you've worked in Labor and Delivery for seventeen years, then we'll compare swaddling skills. Right now, you need to worry less and sleep more. This little man is bound to keep you on your toes when you get him home, so you need to get your rest while you can."
Angel eyed Adam, quiet now, his eyes half-closed. She'd wanted this little boy more than anything in the world. It hadn't occurred to her that she wouldn't know what to do with him when he arrived. 
"And stop your fretting." Ramona tucked Angel's covers around her with the same efficiency she'd used to swaddle Adam. "You have so much love for this little boy that you'll have him all figured out in no time." 
Ramona bustled toward the door, Adam asleep in her arms. She flipped off the light switch as she headed out of the room. "Sweet dreams, Adam's mama," she whispered.
Angel heard her humming softly as she headed down the hall to the nursery.   

Friday, July 31, 2020

Friday Feature: Stepping Away from COVID Anxiety

Last night, as I continued with my inbox reduction plan (making progress, still a long way to go), I came across an article about how trying to squelch anxiety can backfire. I thought it would be a great Friday Feature, so I copied the link. Then, this morning, when I set out to write this post, I discovered that it didn't have much substance beyond the headline.

Back to the drawing board, so to speak.

I liked the topic, so I stuck with it. As the beginning of fall semester approaches, anxiety for educators, students and parents is increasing -- or at least it is in my little corner of the world. 

But every article I read sounds the same. Mindfulness, self-care, stepping away from the news. All really good advice, but nothing I hadn't already considered or put into practice. 

Then I found this article from Healthline and it made me laugh. In reading through it again, I'm not sure why, but that response was a bonus.

Laughter is definitely on of my favorite coping mechanisms.

Not only that, but the article had ideas I hadn't considered or read about anywhere else, despite the fact that it was posted back in March. And the site, too, had a warm, positive vibe, despite the fact that I'd landed on the coronavirus page.

Advice-seeking is a tricky business. We want to be realistic and well-informed, but we don't want to fall down a deep well of despair triggered by too much information that is out of our control. When I find reading material that accomplishes this, I want more of the same.

Which is why I subscribed to Healthline. 

Stay well :-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Dinner for One

TerriC via Pixabay
When my daughter left for college four summers ago, I couldn't imagine our life at home without her. That first year, we counted the days until Parents' Weekend as time crawled from August to October. 

That Parents' Weekend was our first and last. Once my daughter got situated at school, developed friendships and became even more independent than she'd already been as an only child, we were no longer invited to such festivities, as they were deemed something only parents of freshmen attended. We missed having the opportunity to see her and the place she called home but, if she was happy, we were too.

Over those years, my husband and I increased our independence as well. Relieved of day-to-day parental responsibilities, we relaxed our schedules. Family dinners at the table gave way to dinner in the family room and, when my husband started going to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work, I stopped cooking on those nights. By the time he came home from the gym, it was too late to deal with a full-fledged meal, so we fended for ourselves. Luckily, I'm married to someone who had no problem with that plan.

Last March, our empty nest was unexpectedly full again. The circumstances were terrible, but the company is wonderful. Still, a little adjusting was in in order as three independent people once again shared space full-time. 

Once we were required to stay home 24-7, I quickly became overwhelmed as switching to online teaching collided with COVID-19 anxiety and the feeling that I ought to be taking on other responsibilities I hadn't had in four years -- most notably putting a full-fledged meal on the table every night. That last one sounds small but it was one vestige of empty nesting I was unwilling to let go of. We were all here, working and taking classes, every day and we're all able-bodied adults with access to a kitchen. 

I made my declaration of dinner independence in late March, announcing which days I'd cook, which days were everyone-for-himself/herself days and, eventually, which days we'd do takeout. No one complained. 

Initially, all I felt was relief. My online classes were all-consuming and the time gained by not having to prep and cook dinner some nights was essential to my sanity. Once the semester ended, though, I began to feel a little guilty. I didn't voice this, of course (what kind of fool do you take me for?), but it lingered. It's always been hard for me to let go of the Donna Reed expectations I set for myself, despite coming of age in the era of the ERA, and those twinges of guilt once again mocked me for not measuring up.

Until they didn't. 

comfreak via Pixabay

Last night was an everyone-for-himself/herself night, one that illustrated the beauty of this plan. I had shrimp, which no one else in my family likes. My daughter had an Indian dish that she likes, but her father and I don't. My husband had takeout chicken from the grocery store that is both too greasy and too salty for me.

And everyone was happy. 

I've grown so accustomed to making mix-and-match meals (something I swore I'd never do, but somehow ended up doing regularly) to accommodate three very different food preferences that I'd overlooked the best part of this plan, the one that finally allows me to kick guilt to the curb.

When it's every man for himself, every man (or woman) can have whatever he (or she) chooses. 

Wow. Talk about a win-win.

When my daughter was small, it was important to me that we set the expectation of family dinner every night, even if schedules sometimes caused us to fall short. We successfully rose to that challenge and have a young adult who actually likes it when we all eat at the table together. She has decent table manners, has been able to hold a conversation with adults since she was in elementary school, and does not balk at the notion of no technology at the table. In fact, she sometimes enforces that last one.

But she's not a small child anymore, and giving her the independence to eat when she's hungry and the responsibility of cooking for herself is not only reasonable, it's healthy. As for my husband, he'd rather eat frozen chicken nuggets he can toss in the microwave than the boneless, skinless chicken I cook for family dinners. And, as the person who gets stuck with the dishes, he gets a break on everyone-for-himself/herself days because we (mostly) clean up after ourselves.

All this time, I thought I was abdicating responsibility. Turns out, I was relinquishing control.

Well, whaddaya know. I had the right idea all along.