May 14 – My Patio

by Doris Jean Shaw

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I take my coffee out on the patio just as the sun begins to hit the sky with a slight tinge of white. It is cool so I pull my housecoat close about me and watch as the sky changes to a delicate shade of pink. Sun up and coffee drank, I start my morning with breakfast served on the patio. I worry as Bud takes the step down from the house but he makes it.

In a previous life I must have been a nomad who lived outdoors most of the time and only went inside to sleep. Even better, I would be sleeping under the stars or in a lean-to that kept the wind off while I enjoyed the night sky with the soft velvet dotted with sparkles of light. Now, I get out as much as I can. Duties drive me inside only temporarily.

Lunch finds us back on the patio. I look across the table at Bud and flashes of by-gone days on the beach cross my mind. He would prop his feet up on the rail and watch the activities going on around the pool. I think I could sleep out here if a lounge could be shoved into the four-foot space.

No such luck, Bud is down for a nap and I attempt to complete the necessary housework to keep us going.

Supper finds us on the patio having missed the sun pouring in during the late afternoon. We now must deal with the descending shadows and the cool breeze coming our way. I linger for a moment before helping Bud up the one step to the house wondering how much longer he can make that step.

Doris Jean ShawDoris Jean Shaw is a retired educator, Life Coach, author and member of  the Beauregard Parish Writers Guild–The Ink Blots. She loves to travel and writes romances, children’s stories and devotionals. Mrs. Shaw presents a workshop, entitled Reclaiming Me that helps women find direction for their futures.

May 7 – Somebody Stole My Fish

by Nancy Davies

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I had a recent interaction with my father that brought about a curious new insight.

He is 88 years old and struggling with Alzheimer’s. He is convinced that there is a thief coming into his house at night and taking his things or sometimes just moving them around. On this particular day he was concerned about a big taxidermied fish that hangs in his office so he moved it into the spare bedroom–hiding it so it would be safe.

Half an hour later he burst into the kitchen declaring: “Somebody stole my fish! I’ve searched my office and it’s gone.”

At the time it was actually kind of amusing, although as I write it down it sounds more sad and distressing. However the flash that struck me that afternoon was that my dad’s actions are not really all that different from actions that most of us might turn to on any given day.

How many of us unwittingly hide things away only to tell ourselves that we’ve been robbed? We hide our feelings, our fears, our creativity, and then wonder who stole our happiness. We bury our truth and can’t imagine where our peace has gone. We disguise our bad decisions then blame someone for hijacking our freedom. You get the picture.

The thief in the night has come calling on many occasions in my lifetime, stealing things both ordinary and precious and usually leaving behind the same riddle for me to solve: where did I hide my fish?

It seems innocent enough but it’s a question that requires a little bit of soul-searching and a whole lot of honesty. It’s about paying attention to that subtle voice that is no longer satisfied to hide behind the fear. It’s about releasing the blame that comes so easy.

But it is also a waking up process and, at the end of the day as the intruder slips away, we are hopefully left with the epiphany that the real treasures in our lives can never be taken from us.

Recently retired, Nancy Davies is rediscovering a love of writing, gardening and long walks with her dog.

May 2 – Forgot

by Doris Jean Shaw

This morning I made the coffee. We have a fancy machine where you heat the water before you make the coffee. Well, I forgot to heat the water before letting the machine perk. The mess that dripped through looked more like weak tea than a strong brew and it was cold. So much for starting the day out right with a nice cup of coffee. Guess I will just have toast.

I put the bread in the toaster and moved to clean up the coffee debacle. The toast stuck and burnt sending smoke around the kitchen. Flaying at the rising smoke with a dish towel proved futile as the smell enveloped me and settled on everything. I had to open the door to get the smoke out. Forgot the alarm code and sent the wail through the house.

Time to do laundry. I put the clothes in the washing machine and close the lid. When I come back to throw the clothes in the dryer, I discover I forgot to turn it on.

Out to check the mail, no need to worry about the alarm. HA! I find the letters I had put in the box back in my box unsent. Seems I forgot to affix a stamp to send them on their way.

Passing by the hall mirror, I see that I had put my shirt on wrong side out because I forgot to turn it right side out. Could this day get any worse? I doubt it.

Lunch is delayed because someone forgot to turn the burner on. Noon finds me totally frustrated and the house still smells like burnt toast. I find myself snapping at Bud and he has this puzzled look on his face. I feel light-headed and my stomach is growling. In the hubbub of the morning, I had forgotten to eat lunch.

Bud doesn’t deserve to be a victim of my forgetfulness and neither do I. I get Bud settled to watch his favorite morning show and decide to hit the rewind on my day. I slip into my pajamas and go back to bed, pulling the cover over my head and looking for the reset button. I am going to see if I can find my memory button and start this day all over again, on a more positive note this time.

Doris Jean Shaw

Doris Jean Shaw is a retired educator, Life Coach, author and member of  the Beauregard Parish Writers Guild–The Ink Blots. She loves to travel and writes romances, children’s stories and devotionals. Mrs. Shaw presents a workshop, entitled Reclaiming Me that helps women find direction for their futures.

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.