August 20 – Summer Waning

by Morgan O’Donnell

Photo-Aug-09-8-01-30-PMSummer is waning. I know this because the soft glow that seeps through the blinds comes later each morning. I know this because each evening the rich shades of burnt sienna and crimson and twilight lavender color my living room wall earlier. Normally, the end of my summers are frantic, filled with hurried preparation for the fall semester, advising new graduate students who are worried about being back in class after many years, and calming faculty who are wrestling with ornery technology for their online classes. Usually, I am so busy that I barely register the change in light as autumn comes creeping in.

The summer is different. This summer, for the first time in well over a decade, I am not involved in the fall semester prep, filled with both excitement and stress. Instead, I have left my job in higher education to take a break and see what I can do with these words and ideas that have been tumbling around in my head for so long. Instead of putting them into emails that welcome and calm new students or memos that cajole and console weary faculty, or impromptu pep talks to coworkers, I want to see if I can wrangle these words and ideas into the shape of a book.

Each time I tell my story of how I ended up in the mountains of New Mexico watching summer wane, I realize there are many beginnings to it, not just one. The career mentoring sessions with my dean was one beginning. Listening to my boss tell stories of her close friend who had always talked of writing mysteries and then suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s before those ideas reached paper was another beginning. Yet a third beginning was seeing people smile or hearing them chuckle over some quip or crazy Tumblr post I created and realizing that just maybe I could add a little fun to someone’s life. Each time I tell the story I learn something new myself, some little nugget I hadn’t recognized before.

So this summer, for the first time in years, I am measuring my days by the waning light, the gentle chill of the pre-dawn darkness, and the feel of my pen as it glides over paper while I wait to discover where the story will take me.

 Morgan has done a little bit of everything from serving as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army to public relations coordinator for a boys’ ranch to graduate advisor. She has spent the last 10 years guiding college students of all ages. You can follow Morgan’s adventures in the Land of Enchantment at www.morgankodonnell.com.

July 28 – On the Road to Awash National Park, Ethiopia

by Juliana Lightle

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We left Adama early because the drive was long. The highway was good, paved, two lane, but very busy with truck traffic going to and from Djbouti. It made me think of Interstate 40 at home. Like all highways in Ethiopia, goats, cattle, horse-drawn buggies, people, and sometimes camels crisscrossed and walked down the road. Trucks and cars constantly dodged here and there. If you accidentally kill someone on the road, you receive an automatic prison sentence.

At first, the landscape remained green, not as green as in the North, but still green. Fields cultivated for teff lined both sides of the road. Eventually, the landscape transformed to desert acacia and thorny shrubs. Black lava fields and extinct volcanoes appeared. We were in the Great Rift Valley. There it was to my left: the rift from which the valley gets its name. Slowly over years, the rift widens, getting larger and larger. Later, we saw a dormant volcano; it last erupted three hundred years ago.

Now we were in the land of the Afar, a semi nomadic people who herd cattle, camels, and goats. Boys drove herds along the roadside, huge herds of animals. Herd size determines wealth.

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Suddenly, a loud noise indicated a blown tire. Carlo pulled over. Carlo and Dino, father and son, worked at changing the tire. First, a truck driver, his truck broken down the road, came along to help. He refused money, saying in Amharic, that people should help each other. Second, an Afar boy came walking toward us, stopped, watched, then walked off. Then, his back to me, I noticed the eight inch dagger in the back of his pants.

I saw the Afar man coming long before he reached us. He stopped to look, said nothing, walked around the SUV to me. He was tall and dark with an assault rifle slung over his left shoulder. With my hands, I indicated what had happened, trying through gestures to communicate with him.

Suddenly, Dino said, “Get in the car!” I kept trying to talk to the man. Dino repeated, “Juliana, get in the car!” I did, not understanding why. The man walked off down the road.

Later, Dino commented, “Didn’t you see how close he was standing to you?” I had not because I possess no personal space. I had felt no fear.

Note: The Afar consider themselves the most ancient Ethiopians, having lived the same way in the same place for thousands of years. Afar men are considered fearsome, protecting their domain historically with daggers and attacks on strange men. As recently as the 20th century, they cut off testicles of male intruders. Now they carry assault rifles.

Raised on a family farm, Juliana now teaches high school, blogs, sings, raises horses, and wanders the wild on the edge of a canyon in the Panhandle of Texas. Her collection of poetry, On the Rim of Wonder” was published in April. She returned from a vacation in Ethiopia two days ago.

July 5 – There’s No Such Thing as a Free Meal

by Letty Watt

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On a sweltering hot evening in July three friends met at our local Applebee’s to enjoy a free meal, using my $50 gift card for winning the City golf tournament. We laughed while sharing our golf stories, each topping the other person’s tale of woe. As we ate, Peggy turned her eyes toward the black wall of clouds north of us, then with a touch of concern she said, “You all look at the storm cloud.” We ignored her warning, knowing that summer storms hit from the southwest, not from the north!

Before the meal was finished the first hailstones hit like a baseballs coming through the window. We jumped and children screamed. The black cloud had indeed driven straight south. I’m sure there must have been thunder and lightning in that storm, but I only remember moving away from the window with desserts in hand, and marveling at the size of the hailstones. Hail the size of golf balls, baseballs, grapefruit, and even indescribable shapes hit, but it was the direction and ferocity with which they flew that kept my eyes glued to the surrounding windows. The hail came down on us like ocean waves pounding the sand then rebounding over and over. I’d never experienced hail larger than a marble, and honestly didn’t realize its dangers until that moment. The giant hail hitting the metal on the roof at Applebee’s intensified the fears of everyone inside. It wasn’t just little children screaming with the pounding and crashing sounds.

When it was quiet but still raining, one by one we ventured out to see our cars. Windows were shattered, words of amazement echoed in the parking lot. The dents that covered the hood and roof of my car looked like a mad man had taken a baseball bat to it. Sitting in my car, I began to cry. My windshield glistened through the cracks and shards like a twisted kaleidoscope scene.  Carolyn had driven her old work pickup, and it, too, was busted and dented beyond description.

Before driving home I called my husband cautiously asking, “Jack, how bad is the damage there?”

Jack calmly replied, “What are you talking about?”

Now screaming into my cell phone I yelled, “From the hailstones and rain. Where are you?”

Again Jack replied, “The sun is shining here, but I did notice that cloud east of us. Are you alright?”

All I could do was blabber on about the storm and the damage. He interrupted me long enough to say, “Call the insurance company now, then drive home.”

A wise man is good to have in times of crisis.

Carolyn’s pickup was totaled; my car, nicknamed Lumpy, took two months to be repaired. I still have $8 on the gift card, but I’m keeping that card as a trophy and reminder of the most expensive meal we three had ever eaten!

Letty Watt is a golfer by summer months, a writer by winter, and she loves to share stories that people can relate to. She has been writing stories on her blog Literally Letty for over three years.

June 24 – Overheard at the Disaster Auction

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

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Attending the Brethren Disaster Auction has become a venue that my husband and I attend the first Saturday in May annually. The monies raised from said auction are dispersed to communities recovering from the myriad disasters that we all are reading and hearing about via the news media.

“So glad you drove down from Lancaster today,” I said to Donna and Paul, former pastors of the church I attended.

“She drove,” Paul responded. “I’m not able to drive anymore. The vision in my right eye is blurry.”

Emmert, a member of the same congregation joined us in the pleasure of eating hot dogs and conversation. “I have had 13 operations related to a cancer the size of a football. It is a miracle that I lived to tell about it.”

We continued to chat about more pleasant aspects of our lives: grandchildren, life in a retirement community and the most recent funeral we all attended.
While listening to the remarkable verbal skills of the auctioneer, who happens to be a relative of mine, another quilt was on the auction block.

Mac, a friend of years gone by, came over to say hello. The “hello” was followed by: “I just learned that I only have 20/70 vision in my right eye.”

I wasn’t sure how I was expected to reply to this information, but clearly it was important that I be informed.

Next stop was the baked goods table. I rejected my need or desire to add more calories even though the smell of freshly baked breads was wafting in the air and up my nostrils. Bill was standing nearby as his wife was tempting all who came within hearing range to purchase something.

Bill asked, “So, how do you like Carroll Lutheran?”

“Fine,” I replied, “however, it is an adjustment after living independently so many years.”

“So, who do I contact about living there?” he asked.

He repeated the question several times and it became clear that Bill had some memory issues.

“Hey, there is Dave,” my husband said.

He attended church with Dave many years ago. Dave was hobbling around with a cane but it was soon evident that his sense of humor was still intact.

As we descended the hill to get in our van we both exclaimed “Wow! We are really in good health at ages 79 and 75 compared to that of our contemporaries. Let’s take a look at the bucket list again and get on with it.”

So we are “getting on with it” as we attend T-ball games of a great-grandson, plant and dig in an abandoned garden in the woods nearby, sit on the porch of a friend for a chat or just spend an afternoon reading a book.

Patricia is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/LCPC, gardener, writer, cat lover, musician, exploring her writing skills and married to a high school heart-throb in 2010.

June 10 – The Balancing Act

by Dorothy Ross

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Balancing physical activities and medications with social and civic commitments is vital for people with Parkinson’s, and it isn’t easy.

With only twenty-four hours in each day, balance requires planning. If I’m lucky enough to sleep for seven or eight hours at night, I often wake up with a bad case of “off” time. I stuff my feet into my Uggs and shuffle into the bathroom for morning meds. Then I wait. And I wait. And I wait for the medications to work their magic. They will not be rushed.

Coffee clears my head of its morning fog, but it does nothing to move my feet. I don’t dare schedule any appointments before nine a.m. because I’m not safe behind the wheel until my feet can be made to obey my brain. The hours between six and nine in the morning aren’t a total loss. I type awkwardly during that time, but I can usually answer email, browse the Net, and keep up with the grandkids’ Facebook pages.

Once the morning shot of levadopa makes its way to my extremities, I’m ready to start my day. My husband and I walk our big dog in the University of California’s sprawling orchards–two or three miles most days. By the time we get back, I’m tired and “off” and I need to sit again until the next dose of meds takes effect.

I’m generally in good shape through the middle of the day. If you saw me downtown on my way to meet a friend for lunch, you might not believe I have PD. But when I get home from my outing I’m often listless and sagging, and sometimes freezing in my tracks. So I take a pill and lie down for a nap to rest up for the evening.

You don’t need a detailed itinerary of my week’s activities to understand how important it that I listen to my body and make a plan to be alert and strong when I have a commitment that requires my active participation. I’m sure that’s what Michael J. Fox does; otherwise, he couldn’t stand up to act in front of the camera.

To help me track the fluctuations in my moods and movement capabilities, my doctor has suggested that I keep a PD journal. I record the hours of sleep and naps, the timing of meds, amount of exercise, “off” hours, and social events. The details in my little book serve as vivid reminders of how important all aspects of my life are and how I must make time for family and friends and fun, as well as dance and yoga and walking–if not every day, then over the course of every week. That’s the balancing act.

Dorothy Ross facilitates the Parkinson’s Support Group in Davis, California. The subject of the current SCN writing contest suggested this piece for that support group’s blog.

Not a Good Day to Die

by Judy Watters

I love Thursdays with my sister, Virginia, and my 93-year old mom. I drive the 35 miles to be there by 8:15 a.m. and always find them just waking. We spend two hours over coffee and toast. At 11:00, I help Mom shower then I set her hair in pink curlers, so she can be pretty for her Bible College class that night. By then, it’s time for lunch.

The entire morning, we chatter non-stop about everything–loved ones, church, world and local news, and even politics. Virginia’s husband stays just long enough to eat, then for some unknown reason, he disappears and leaves us to our day.

This past Thursday our conversation took a strange twist. It went like this:

Mom: I felt so good when I woke up this morning. Not one pain. You know, I read somewhere that people feel good three days before they die.

Me: Really? I never heard that. Let’s see. Today is Thursday; three days from now is Sunday. That’s not a good day, Mom. You wouldn’t want to disrupt church services.

Mom: Are you sure it’s Sunday? I thought it was Saturday.

Virginia: Wait…(She gets her calendar off the pantry door. With Virginia, if it’s not on the calendar, then it wasn’t planned in advance, and therefore, a huge disruption to her schedule.)
Mom, you know Sunday is a busy day around here with choir practice and the kids going to youth group. That’s not going to work.

Me: Then there’s the memorial service to plan. If you die on Sunday, memorial would be Wednesday, and remember, Thursday is my day with you, not Wednesday.

Mom: Oh, I hadn’t thought that far in advance. But I don’t want any memorial where people gawk at me and say how good I look. I’ll be dead; how good can that be?

Me: No memorial? Memorials are for the living; you have so many friends.

Mom: My good friends will understand.

Me: You’ll need to be transported to Pennsylvania for burial. Plane tickets are very expensive if you don’t schedule 2 weeks in advance. Larry and I can’t pay full price right now.

Mom: Well, no one needs to make that trip. Just have the funeral home pick me up in Elmira; they’ll take me from there.

Virginia: We really want to go with you; you will just have to wait. Let’s see what July or August looks like. (She turns the pages of the calendar.)

Me: Mom,we’re really tight this year. Now that I’m retired, we’re down to one income. I don’t think we can swing it at all this year. Next year might look better. You’ll just have to put off dying for a while.

Mom (with her usual sweet smile): Oh, okay.

End of subject.

Have you ever had a serious talk with a loved one that turned as silly as our talk did? Write it down. It will make great reading for your generations to come.

Judy-3-212x300In May 2013, Judy Sheer Watters published her first memoir, The Road Home: The Legacy that was, is, and is to Come. Her blog encourages women to write their stories. Judy teaches legacy writing classes, facilitates Hill Country Christian Writers, and Hill Country Bloggers in Bulverde, Texas. She and her husband have three grown children and one dog.

May 25 – Meeting Juno

By Patricia Roop Hollinger

“Juno, SIT!”

Juno sat.

“Juno, give me a paw.”

Juno gave Brayden a paw.

“Juno, give me a high-five.”

Yep! Juno could do that one also.

Who is this Juno, you wonder? He is a keeshond that my great-grandson, Brayden, recently became the proud owner of. Juno is a wiggly, snuggly, loving ball of gray fur that no one could resist in spite of wet sloppy licks on the face. Love in its purest form.

Brayden’s Oma, Beate, shared her love of cats and dogs with Brayden when he arrived from the womb. It is evident that he and his pets speak the same language. The language of love pure and simple.

Juno is just another great-grandchild for me, as is Brayden. “No,” I do not object to revealing that I have entered into the realm of great grandparenthood. It is a privilege and honor. Especially when folks tell me: “But you don’t look old enough to be a great-grandmother.”

Brayden’s grandfather, Michael, was my son who was also a lover of a keeshond named Dogen. They were inseparable. Especially when Michael suffered from chronic pain from a work related injury. Dogen was the most potent medication for pain relief during that saga.

Brayden was born 2007 and Michael died 2009; thus memories are mostly through stories and photos of the grandfather who would have loved to have known him.

The reader can only imagine my delight when I saw photos on Facebook of Brayden and Juno eyeing each other lovingly when they met at the BWI airport. I knew then that Michael had a spiritual hand in this occurrence. Thus, my delight when I met Juno and Brayden luxuriating in their delight with each other. Michael had joined us in a most profound way.

Today I found a photo of Michael with Dogen and mailed it to Brayden with the following words:

“Brayden, your granddad Michael with his keeshond Dogen,
Greets you with this loving slogan.

He wants you to know he watches you and Juno.
It makes him so happy that is makes him just glow.

Your missing front tooth, Yep! He knows about that too,
that you count to 100….and play T-ball;
there isn’t much he doesn’t know about you.

Give Mom and Dad some hugs and kisses,
For being with them he so much misses.”

Patricia Roop Hollinger is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/LCPC after employment at Brook Lane Health Services, a mental health facility, after 23 years. Lover of nature, gardening, cats. Pursuing her love of reading and writing since retirement.