April 13 – Our Magical Goodbye Walk

by Lorna Earl

I was sickened with grief.

My canine companion, a scruffy three-year-old Terrier mix I adopted, died suddenly when he slipped his collar and ran into traffic. He was thirteen years old. The last time I felt as lost, abandoned, and downright empty was when my husband left me. He’s still alive.

Phil, my fiancé, tried to keep me busy, but he was grieving, too. We were a sorry pair. He was worried that my chronic fatigue symptoms would flare from the stress. So was I. I thought about scientific articles correlating pet ownership to health. How ironic. I took extra medication to help me sleep.

Fearing depression and an inflamed immune system malaise, I woke knowing I had to pull myself back from the hole into which I was falling. The hole in my heart.

I laid in bed and asked myself, “How can a hole feel so damned heavy?” Irony was everywhere.

I reached over and poked Phil. He stirred.

“I’m going for a walk,” I said.

This was an act of courage because every morning I took Scrappy for a walk and this walk would be solo.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I have to do this alone.”

“Okay. Just be careful.” It was dark, raining, and windy. Phil worries about me.

“I will. I just need to do this.”

And I did. Armed with my rain gear and a handful of tissues, I headed off into the pre-dawn darkness. That’s when I started talking aloud to Scrappy. First, I told him how sorry I was for not protecting him from harm.

“I hope your soul left before you felt any pain, Buddy. After you rest a bit, I bet you’ll be running and exploring with the best of them wherever you are.”

Second, I talked about our journey together and how maybe he knew it was time that I travel alone. We met when we were both abandoned souls, teaching each other about trust.

“I’ll always love you, Scrap. Thank you so much for being right there with me through those tough days. Remember when it was just you and me?”

Finally, I told him about how I was strong enough to walk alone.

“You were my brave and perfect companion but you don’t need to protect me anymore. It’s your time to do what you want.”

When I said this last declaration to him three things happened simultaneously:  The pelting rain stopped instantaneously; the wind that kept blowing the hood off my head died down to nothing; and the grief-grip on my heart released.

I smiled, knowing that my independent pal finally understood something I said. We spoke soul-to-soul and he got the message.

His sparkling love now fills my heart, effervescent and light. Do I miss him? Sure I do. But on our magical Goodbye Walk, something shifted and he was with me in a new way.

We still walk together every morning . . . in that new way.

Lorna was a sociology professor. Creative writing is her new path since her premature disability retirement due to Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. She has written two self-published books: a memoir and a historical fiction novel. Lorna has been blogging since 2010 at Lorna’s Voice.

April 10 – Staying Calm

by Doris Jean Shaw

I have no Sunday to hang my week on; sometimes I lose track of what day it is. When my husband could no longer sit through a church service, we no longer attended. At the present, my one concession is to get up a few minutes early, drink my coffee in a room that starts out dark and is illuminated by the rising sun. I need that time to myself and to prepare for the day.

No longer is my time my own, as his health diminishes, my husband depends on me more and more to help with every day tasks. By ten o’clock, breakfast and bath are behind us. Any doctor’s appointments are scheduled for mornings, as by afternoon he is worn out and struggles to get out of a chair. Preparing lunch and seeing that he gets up and walks a bit drains me as well. The hardest part is to remain calm while he grows agitated. No longer can he dress without help. Eating is a challenge as his hands shake and food falls off the spoon. His foot does not want to move. Just getting through the ordeal of daily living leaves us both ready for a nap to rejuvenate. Between treatments for various ailments and his frequent trips to the bathroom, I am once again exhausted after supper and preparations for bed are complete.

Sleep eludes me as I wrestle with what I have to do, and the negative responses I get from those who have nothing but unsolicited advice. Thankful I am not in charge of the future, I get down on my knees and thank God for helping me through the day, and pray that tomorrow will be a repeat of today for I am not ready for the alternative.

Doris Jean Shaw is a retired educator, Life Coach, author and member of Beauregard Parish Writers Guild “The Ink Blots.” She loves to travel and writes romances, children’s stories and devotionals. Mrs. Shaw presents workshops, entitled “Reclaiming Me”, “My Parents Keeper”, “The Trouble with Retirement”, and “Care for the Caregiver” to help women find direction for their futures.

April 5 – A Stretch

by Fran Simone

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never create anything original.
– Sir Kenneth Robinson

Several years ago I signed up for a class in collage because I felt the need to stretch beyond the familiar, never mind that my artistic talent (or lack of) consists of drawing lopsided stick figures. In elementary school I couldn’t stay within the lines of a coloring book, and a painting class in college was a disaster.

The class met for five sessions in the messy studio of Marc, a gifted artist and enthusiastic teacher. My four classmates were repeats with Marc.  Each was talented with a flair for style as evidenced by their bright colors, bold jewelry, and eye-catching hats. What am I doing here? Should I bolt out the door? But I had paid my money and set myself a challenge.

Session one. Marc talked about the elements of collage and turned us loose to page through old magazines and “cut out or tear out whatever strikes your fancy.”  I looked, cut and tore, and wound up with a pile of flowers, birds, trees, and clouds. Well, maybe a nature theme.

Session two. More of the same: look, cut, tear, and puzzle over ways to arrange disparate pieces.. My classmates were way ahead. Two had already chosen themes, farm and music, and had begun arranging pieces on their canvasses. One sketched a design. I was still undecided.

Session three. Again, not a clue.  Then, I stumbled across a picture of Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David, which I had marveled at while visiting Florence. Eureka. My theme. Italy.

Session four. I located pictures of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and Tower of Pisa.
“Great,”  Marc said, “now tear pieces to represent the sky and the earth. Then begin to lay out your design.”

My first attempt was as out of proportion as an unassembled puzzle. Marc patiently showed me how to divide the canvas into three spaces. He penciled in three parallel lines in equal proportions.

“Now place the sky above, the objects in the middle, and the earth below.”
I devised various combinations and consulted with Marc and my classmates.

Final session.  I carefully positioned my clouds and sky, statue, bridge, tower, and earth in various combinations. Running out of time and patience, I had to plunge right in like a swimmer jumping off a high diving board. Here goes. Glue pieces on canvas. No turning back. Hope for the best.

A month later we were invited to exhibit our creations with students in Marc’s art class at a local college. While the students’ works weren’t as magnificent as Michelangelo’s, they were pretty darn good. Although out of my league, I wasn’t embarrassed.

Today, my Italy collage is displayed on a book shelf in the office where I write. It reminds me to stretch beyond my comfort zone.

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Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus at Marshall University, South Charleston, WV, campus. She directed the West Virginia Writing Project and taught classes and conducted workshops in personal narrative, memoir and creative non-fiction. Her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published last year.

March 31 – Settle In

by Nancy Davies

There is a fine mist hanging from the grey Oregon sky as I sit down to write this afternoon. It usually takes me awhile to settle into a focused frame of mind when I am writing during the middle of the day. My first reaction is that I am squandering my time, being frivolous with precious moments that I can’t get back. I feel this need to be doing something “constructive” during the daylight hours, and have something to show at the end of each day; a clean house, a weed-free yard, some money in the bank. When my husband comes home after another stress filled day at the office and asks me innocently, “What did you do today?” I want to be able to recite a litany of accomplishments that make him believe it is more important for me to be at home than grinding out another day in the work force. But in reality, I think it is me who I’m actually trying to reassure. After years of raising kids, working, volunteering and being generally insane, it’s difficult to get used to so much unscheduled time, and at the same time it’s so amazing!

I have taken this past year off and I am now looking back and viewing this as a year of learning. In a sense, I have become a student of all the things I previously never had time for. I have read books and watched videos of all kinds. I took a class on mindfulness and started a meditation practice. I have tried to make it a point to work on the internal makeup of my life much more than the external. And I’ve been writing, which helps me to straighten out my thoughts. My hope is that once these thoughts are on paper I can step back and see them from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps try to look without judgment; even reflect back and see some sort of growth occurring. My intention is to open up with no expectations and see what comes out, not unlike walking through life with your arms wide open ready to catch whatever might drop down from the heavens.

What is emerging from all of this for me is the appreciation that life is not a to-do list. By pursuing activities that are meaningful to where I am right now, I’m convinced I will not look back with regret. At the end of the day, by enriching my own life I am, in turn, enriching everything around me.

Recently retired, Nancy has rediscovered long walks with her dog and the joy of a flourishing garden. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Tom and dog, Ella.

March 7 – On Writing Memoir

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

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I opened the I Ching at random this morning and came up with #38, K’uei / Opposition.  The commentary says it is common for two opposites to exist together, needing to find relationship. I realize an opposition is being set up just in the act of writing Drop Out. My inner writer will be observing everything I do closely and recording what she finds valuable. I’m reminded of a review of Journey into the Dark: The Tunnel by William Gass that appeared in The New York Times Book Review:

Writers double themselves all the time in their fictions, of course. That’s one of the reasons for writing them: to clone yourself and set yourself out on a different path, or to reconfigure yourself as a marginal observer of your own childhood, as Lawrence does with Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, and as Woolf does with Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse; or to split yourself in two and reimagine one side of yourself through the eyes of the other, as Joyce does in Ulysses, and as Nabokov does in Pale Fire.

. . . The reason for this is that making copies of ourselves and setting them in motion in imaginary space is built in to the way minds work. We do it all the time–when we plan for a future event, when we relive the past, when we daydream. (July 13, 1995)

I like the idea that I’m daydreaming myself into existence, that day and night dreams, which can be in opposition, work together to make a creative entity. I’m actually making a fiction in my memoir, just as we all are fictions, walking around. I can’t possibly capture my whole life in these pages, so in making the choices I do and recording them, I’m altering my experience, describing a fictional “I” and transforming my life and my experiences. They are both mine and not mine.

In fact, the act of writing these things and reflecting back on them alters that period, transforms it, just as the moon’s reflection changes what it touches, causing us to see a landscape differently at night than in the day time under the sun’s glare. The moon softens surfaces, embraces them. The sun brings out an object’s hard edges and distances us from it. It makes an object seem farther away than the moon’s light does.

In a way, I’m creating a character named Lily, just as other writers recreate themselves when writing memoir. By organizing our pasts as we do, we eliminate a good deal, including only what fits the page limitation and what we’re willing to reveal. Of course, this is how we give shape to a self anyway, by uncovering/discovering it, bit by bit. All of our personality doesn’t show at any one time. Maybe over a long period, the different parts of ourselves will come forward and be exposed. But we are always selecting, choosing.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie sprouted on the Canadian prairies under cumulus clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. Her first creative writing instructors, they scudded across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape–one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding, the next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave her a unique view of life.

March 2 – Scarcity and Abundance

by Martha Slavin

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The citrusy smell of Meyer lemons fills the kitchen as I slice one after another of our crop of Meyer lemons. As with any fruit/citrus-bearing trees, our Meyer lemon trees produce all at once. How do I make use of such abundance?

I think once again about having a little of something and too much of something and how quickly I stop prizing an abundance. I savor a small quantity of something to make it last. Once I have a lot of something, it no longer seems precious enough to glean every last drop.

This is the week to do something with them before their skins start to go soft. I’ve already given two bags to our house cleaners. I’ve taken a couple of bags to the Urban Farmers (a local organization who will take excess produce), I’ve sliced them for water at Craft Day, squeezed them for a morning drink of water with lemon juice, and stuffed them into whole chickens. I used to make limoncello with the remainder.

We first tasted limoncello, a lemon-infused liqueur, while we were living in Tokyo and frequented an Italian restaurant around the corner from our apartment. As a parting gift at the end of our dinner, the staff would present us with a shot glass of this mellow liqueur.

Limoncello is easy to make, uses lots of lemons, and is good as a gift. I stopped making it though, after the year when I waited too long and the lemons grew soft and dried out sitting on the counter. The limoncello had no flavor. I knew that it was time to let go of making limoncello because what once had been fun had become a chore.

Here’s my recipe for limoncello. Just be sure to use fresh, juicy lemons:

Peel 20 fresh lemons with a vegetable peeler. Use the peeler or a sharp knife to remove the white pith on the inside. Soak peels in 100-proof vodka for about a week at room temperature. Test the peels. If they crack apart, the batch is ready. If they are still flexible, put them back for more soaking. When ready, add three cups of sugar and three cups of water. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool. Have ready coffee filters and clean glass jars. Strain the mixture through the filters into the jars. Seal, and chill for about a month. Then sample!

I’ve looked for other recipes for lemons, but most of them require only a little juice or a little zest or they are desserts, not enough to support the bags of lemons I have left. Maybe this year I will try limoncello one more time.

Do you have good uses or good recipes for Meyer lemons?

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. She writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

January 27 – The Pity Party – Burning Mouth Syndrome

by Kali’ P. Rourke

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I have been suffering with Burning Mouth Syndrome for nearly six and a half years now. Interested in learning more about this mystery disease?

I would tell you to Google “Burning Mouth Syndrome,” but I know what mess would appear. Mayo Clinic does a fairly good overview at http://mayocl.in/1mRRGuu.

I suspect my burning was caused by dental work, but I may never know the cause. Every once in a while, what my Neurologist euphemistically refers to as “the persistence of it” overwhelms me and I have a brief, but intense pity party.

Instead of focusing on the optimistic side of the coin:

It isn’t fatal
At least it isn’t cancer
My family is supportive
There are drugs that help
I have developed decent coping strategies

I occasionally dip into the pessimistic side:

It hurts nearly every day
The drug helps but makes me drowsy and aimless
There is no rhyme or reason to the good days or the bad days
Even on good days, my tongue tingles all of the time
I think, deep down, I am angry
I fear–It. Will. Never. End.

Recently, I got a new medicine from my neurologist. It is used at a fairly low dose to control errant nerve activity and at much higher doses for patients who are dealing with seizures. Under his direction, I ramped up my dosage gradually to see if I could tolerate it. Side effects included possible lowering of blood sodium, drowsiness and suicidal thoughts.

You would think those things would scare me, but with exception of the sodium levels (which we monitored with blood tests), anything I take has those side effects, and more. They are “old hat” to me now.

Our goal in adding this medicine was to calm the misfiring nerves that cause the burning and tingling sensations in my mouth. If we could get the nerves to rest, it may help with the healing and have the added benefit of symptom relief. I could only hope.

Hope is a powerful thing, probably even more powerful than medicines.

Unfortunately this hope did not pan out, and I have added one more unsuccessful medication to my ever-growing list. I am fortunate to have one medicine that does control the pain to an endurable level and I will keep looking.

And every so often, I will pause, indulge in a brief pity party and then move on.

Kali’ is an avid volunteer, a Mentor with Seedling Foundation, and an Impact Austin philanthropist. In her spare time, she does social media for nonprofits, blogs and is also a singer/songwriter!