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Sunday, September 14, 2014

To Everything There is a Season


I sit at my desk this morning wearing sweat pants, a long sleeve shirt, and warm, fuzzy footie socks.
Outside my window, colorful leaves rest atop my freshly mowed lawn as a stiff breeze tests the strength of the foliage not yet ready to let go.
I pause thinking and typing and go make myself a mug of Constant Comment, one of my favorite hot teas.
It’s been what Glennon Melton calls a brutiful week, one filled with beauty and a bit of brutality.
Seven days filled with a great deal of overtime and a new crop of students who are testing the limits…and my patience…
Seven days filled with an internet connection that has continued to be almost non-existent…
Seven days of fretting that you, my loyal readers and magical/cyber friends, will drift away because I haven’t been connected…
Seven days filled with weather that has fluctuated as much as forty degrees overnight…
What bothers me about that hasn’t been the temperature; being someone who loathes doing things twice, I’ve lamented having to change my clothes midday…
I also hated that Mother Nature New York didn’t lay out a nicer welcome mat for two aunts who came from Texas to bury their mother’s remaining ashes next to their father.
On what was this matriarch’s ninetieth birthday, the skies were gray and wept bone-chilling tears that muddied the cemetery’s dirt drives and filled in its worn grooves.
A large group of friends and family gathered for a celebration of life earlier this summer, at Aunt’s favorite spot in a park alongside a river in New Mexico.
Our small group of remaining northern relatives gathered graveside with umbrellas and parkas.
Though I’m not one to dwell in scripture, I couldn’t help but be drawn to these words the pastor read from this Ecclesiastes’ passage:
(text copied from this online site.)
There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

When I mentioned to Warren’s cousin how much I loved that message, she told me that the well-loved song by The Byrds, To Everything there is a season; Turn! Turn! Turn! was adapted from that book.
Listen to a live version of the performance below!

There is a time for everything, Journeyer, and as I look back on this tiring and troublesome week, I am reminded of that very reality.
There is a time to remember the joys we’ve forgotten, like these many moments that I failed to include in last week’s post…
…like the feeling that washed over me when I hugged Beauty close after last week’s game, or when I hear her excited chatter about the things she’s learned in her coursework…
...and this child's drawing on the entrance door of a gas station...

…these little bits of inspiration and nostalgia found in a delightful 1850’s house turned into a modern day gift shop that we stumbled upon on our way home from the game…

Pregnant kitty who greeted us on the porch and then rolled over for a good belly rub


The original staircase leading up to an attic loft


…this fabulous Yelp restaurant Warren and I discovered…
Entrance to Paddy's restaurant
Mushroom Swiss Burger

…like this fun little banter I had with Fave…
Teasing that his dad was going to buy a real life Tonka truck

There is a time to grumble about nature and a time to be grateful for her abundance and beauty…
View on our drive home from Beauty's soccer game

A morning commute sunrise

There is a time to think only of ourselves and a time to be thankful for those things that remind us of loved ones…
This Willow Tree made me think of animal loving Beauty
Though I'm no fan of blow-up lawn ornaments, my 'lil sis is
That gift shop was full of owl items, which reminded me of Fave's girl Squirrel
This Paddy's door sign reminded me of friends who are avid and exuberant St. Patrick's Day enthusiasts

Shredding mozzarella cheese reminded me of Fave, who used to eat it by the chunk

There is a time for rigidity and a time to revise and regroup, to make shifts in our thinking or changes in our surroundings…
As I type, Warren is reshaping the tree in our side yard, the one that gave me a new clarity about my marriage, a different perspective about my husband, just before our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary.

This looming, gorgeous structure is a likely culprit for our recent internet problems because it is in direct line of our satellite’s southern view, but I’m glad that Warren chose to reduce its size rather than tear it down completely.
A backyard tree that once threatened our home, revived after
Warren cut back rather than cut down
There is a time to live and a time to die…
There is a time to be alone and a time to gather with friends...
Couple's Date night (Hubbies are inside watching football)
There is a time to hold on and a time to let go
As I stood listening to the pastor talk about our loved one’s vitality for life, her passion for people, and how she always made a place at the table for strangers and friends alike, my gaze wandered to the headstone behind our aunt’s burial place.
Afterward, as I gazed upon the marker’s uniqueness, I couldn’t help but marvel at the many contradictions, yet beautiful symbolisms…

When walking through the cemetery to Gavin’s grave, we are always careful to step in-between the plots, a sense that it is disrespectful to tread upon one’s final resting place.
This creative memorial welcomes us with open arms, beckoning us to sit for a spell, to rest our weary or sorrowed souls, or to relax, rejoice, and reminisce about the life’s energy that lives on…
The monument adorning this dwelling is an invitation for us to remember that to everything there is a season…
What about you, Journeyer? What Moment(s) layered your season of joy and filled your happy organ last week?
Until we meet again, yours in healing, hope, and happiness…

    ~AE

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happiness Taking Shape


Well, Journeyer, what can I say, the moon is full tonight, I’m back to school, we spent the weekend traveling, and this post is late.
All I can do is chuckle.
As I type, we are on our way to one of Big Guy’s soccer games an hour from home.
So, I’m going to keep this as short and sweet as I possibly can.
Last week shaped up to be pretty good.
Warren and I found ways to reduce the tension between us.
We went out on a dinner date one night, to a little local bistro I’ve been wanting to check out for quite some time.
The chicken wings appetizer left a little to be desired, but the ambience was delightful and this cranberry turkey Panini was as fresh and delicious as they come!

I made it through the first three days of school changes and adaptations.
The new person I’m training at work is doing beautifully and I am thankful that she is diligent and thorough and conscientious; that is always a help!
I made three batches of cookies for Beauty’s and Big Guy’s teams, which always makes my house smell good and boosts my joy.
And Warren and I went out of town to watch Beauty’s team play on Saturday and Sunday.
Rather than make the two extra ninety-minutes trips, Warren and I found a cheap hotel and stayed Saturday evening.
We froze our little buns off on Saturday, sitting beneath umbrellas and came home with sunburned faces after Sunday’s sunny weather.

The views on the drive home were spectacular…for now you’ll just have to take my word for it because my iphone charger broke and I can’t connect it to my computer to download Sunday’s photos…
On the way home we found this fabulous Irish Inn, thanks to Yelp!
And we have a new family story to tell in the run down restaurant with the detached sign flapping in the wind.
The most exciting part of the week came with my second shopping spree for the #BestTeachersGifts pay-it-forward giveaway.
Thanks to Staples and Walmart and their many great deals, this project is also shaping up nicely.


Look at this second shopping day haul!!

While shopping I ran into one of my favorite people in the world; Mrs. O was a gym teacher for years and upon retiring she volunteered in our children’s elementary school for many more years before retiring for good.

Additionally, she has been one of Fave’s most loyal supporters, someone who we have come to consider a friend and one we haven’t seen in person in quite some time.
Entries for the school supply giveaway have been coming in a little slowly, so if you know a teacher in grades K-12 who purchases classroom supplies out of their own pockets, please enter them into this giveaway!
If you, yourself, are a teacher, please nominate yourself!
We have until October 15th, at which time I’ll finalize the ten recipients and begin packaging the items to send out around November 1.
Ready. Set. Sponsor! Share! Shop!
Last but certainly not least, I managed to squeeze in a few games of Words with Friends (even Warren has joined in the fun) AND I managed to triumph over one more challenging Candy Crush level.

Well, Journeyer, that’s a wrap for today!
What about you, what Moment(s) shaped your happy last week? Please share one or more of them here!
Until we meet again, yours in healing, hope, and happiness…
    ~AE

Monday, September 1, 2014

Drawing a Line in the Lemonade


It’s Sunday, Journeyer, and this is what I have to say: The wheels on the mini-van go ‘round and ‘round…
This time we’re in Virginia for another training seminar that Fave and Warren are doing.
I’m the unofficially official videographer for this event and let me just say my son has figured out how to treat his mama right.
This introduction would make any mother beam with pride: “That beautiful, amazing woman over there? That’s my mom, a great addition to this camp. She’s going to be taking videos of the lifts so we can do video analysis later. Everyone say, ‘Hi, Mom.’ ”
I had the pleasure of meeting twenty-two delightful people from all over the United States.
As I looked through the photos and notes from the week, I couldn’t help but notice how those happy moments offset those not-so-happy ones.
It’s a bit like drawing a line in that proverbial glass of lemonade.
We refuse to be defined by the The Five D’s that seem to take up so much space in our heads and our hearts.
When our happy organ starts to go dry, we fill that well back up simply by choosing to pay homage to those simple and sizable pleasures that make us smile or laugh or feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
In the middle of the week, I made this note: HAPPY F-N HAPPENS!!!!!
I finally figured out how to find Facebook post URLs and then how to shorten them with that most amazing Bit-ly program that every online writer should have in her toolbox. Bitly.com, Baby. One of your new best friends.
Clarification. I thought I had mastered something new. On Friday all of that sort of unraveled.
No. Nothing sort of about it.
I discovered that not only hadn’t I learned how to do this task correctly, I’d BLASTED cyberspace with erroneous links.
All. Over. The. Internet.
That’s the bad news.
Other Happy Moments include seeing my two boys bonding a little more and enjoying one another’s company.

Seeing this antique car, fully restored to its original glory, with a modern day bike rack on the back. How much fun is that?!

I reread the Letting Go inspirations/worksheet and had an epiphany, that brought with it a release of tension.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging everything, but to allow others to effect their own destinies.”
Even though I’ve always worked as a teacher in some capacity, even though I fully believe in Maya Angelou’s “When you learn, teach. At our best we are all teachers,” I do not have to always be wearing that mentor’s cap.
When I read that statement this time, it came to me as a gentle reminder that the best teachers allow people to learn from their own experiences, be they in the form of failure or success.
I do not always have to be imparting knowledge and encouraging thought…
I love entertaining as much as I love learning, so hosting a spaghetti dinner for Big Guy’s soccer team was one of my week’s happiest highlights.
They are one of the most gracious and well-rounded group of young men you can imagine.

Sixteen boys took over two floors of our home, and we barely knew they were here.
Guilty pleasures are a must and, though I don’t play Candy Crush nearly as often these days, I still feel excitement in my veins when I finally complete a level that I’ve been stuck on for months!

This pay-it-forward gift from a good friend couldn’t have shown up on my doorstep at a more opportune time!

She knows how much I love writing letters on stationary!
Coincidentally, I also put together the first of five-pay-it-forward gifts to people who responded to my Facebook pay-it-forward post.
Knowing that there are a few items we don’t think about purchasing when we’re setting up a new house, I gifted Fave with a few necessities I’m sure he’ll need for his new place.
Every bachelor pad needs specialty drinking mugs

There's nothing like family stories that live into legacy, and this weekend another tale was born.
Fave inherited my penchant for mixing metaphors...
Here are the two Annah-isms, though I guess they'd be called Fave-isms, that materialized through my otherwise intelligent, articulate, and well-spoken son: "I slept like a light." "We're trouble solving."
And I just love the Hampton Inn’s comforts and perks and the little touches that make being away from home feel like we are home.

How about you, Journeyer? What Moments filled your happy organ last week? Would love for you to share one or more of them here so that we can live vicariously through your joy, too!
Until next time, yours in healing, hope, and happiness.
         ~AE

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Eleventh Commandment and Other Tips from The (Great) Writer's Codebook


“Don’t squish the bread.”
All you moms out there know exactly what I’m talking about.
We’ve conveyed those four words in all types of tones, though usually the command is projected with emphatic, if not menacing undertones.
You’ll go without lunch for a week or Can’t cut the crusts off of crushed bread, Kiddo.
I’m afraid I can’t relate to the latter, nor can my children.
Who in this blessed world has time for cutting the crust off bread?
Besides, there are starving people
Grocery shopping was notoriously a family event in our house, and “Don’t squish the bread” was a weekly directive.
“Is that like the eleventh commandment?” Fave once asked.
Squishing the bread is akin to a cardinal sin; it’s like culinary sacrilege at its best.
So, I know what you’re thinking: What on God’s green earth does squishing the bread have to do with writing?
Well, first of all it involves a story.
Second of all, a writer’s words are her bread and butter, food for the soul, or any other cliché you can think of.
And today I realized that I have spent the past week squashing some of my most important words, squeezed the very life out of them.
I’m talking about the kind of crushing that leaves that slice of wholesomeness so flattened it looks and feels like a gummy wad of nearly dried-up glue.
It’s totally useless…
I posted the links on Google and Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram and I asked you to share and share and share.
AND YOU DID! This post has one of my highest click rates of all time!
But after a week of watching that count go up and up, I began to wonder why no one was submitting nominations. Not one. Zilch. NADA.
So I did a bit of sleuthing today and realized my grave, grave mistakes.
1)   I had not tested the bit-ly link for the Facebook post.
2)   As if that weren’t bad enough, I discovered that the e-mail link on The Five Facets website was broken.

Heaven only knows how many of you have submitted entries to this giveaway!
O…M…G… even worse, how many of you have written for information in the six months since this blog went live?!
Talk about EPIC FAIL.
Falling flat on one’s face.
Suppressing any enthusiasm I might have drummed up.
I squashed those perfectly shaped writing resources and our connection with Olympic-caliber and perfect form.
Ugh
Fortunately for me, we writers tend to be the forgiving kind, and fixing the little problem is almost as easy as hitting a few delete buttons.
I can also turn my little mishap into a post and offer a few gentle reminders for all of my writing friends out there.
One of the best ways to be successful is to pay attention to those habits and suggestions of those people you deem successful.
Below are a few of the tips I’ve culled from writers who seem to have made a place for themselves in The Writer’s Kingdom.
Eleven Commandments from The (Great) Writer’s Codebook
                1)     Write because you love words more than you need riches.
                2)     Write about what you know; it’s comfortable and it makes you look smart and savvy.
                3)     Write about what you don’t know; it’s a humble reminder that we don’t know everything and it makes everyone else feel good about what they do know.
                4)     The world is your oyster-ly muse. You can write about anything from tampons to that cat who just stuck his paw in your morning cup o’ joe.
                5)     Find your voice, that sweet spot that reflects your own cadence and flair and style. Personal style lends credibility and sense when you write about feminine plugs and that favorite feline.
                6)     Use your active voice; passive voice puts your readers to sleep and begins to feel like a sharp stick poking her in the eye.
                7)     Put your ass in that seat and your phone in another room.
                8)     Set a timer everything from showering and social media to writing.
                9)     Get up and MOVE; your fingers aren’t the only part of your body that needs exercise.
              10)    Patience is your new best friend. With it you won’t hit that Submit button when there are errors awaiting your attention. Without it you just might go stark raving mad before you receive that coveted acceptance letter.
And the eleventh commandment?
It’s actually one of the first things we learn and one of the last so many of us heed.
It’s so important that it’s worth amending The Writer’s Ten Commandments.
Here’s hoping The Writer’s Eleventh Commandment will now stand out as the most important
Are you ready?
THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT FROM THE (GREAT) WRITER’S CODEBOOK
PROOF. EVERYTHING.
If you have to, pay your kids or the neighborhood’s five-year-old  tech-genius to test your links.
There ya have it, Folks.
Now that you’ve sighed and winced and laughed a little, go proof that piece AND please, please, please get busy nominating your favorite teacher for our $500 pay-it-forward teacher supply giveaway!
Ten lucky teachers will each receive $50 in much needed classroom supplies.
You’re awesome.
Until next time, yours in healing, hope, and happiness.
    ~AE

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to School in Serendipitous and Chicken of the Sea Style, and a #Teacher Supplies #Giveaway!



“When you learn, teach. At our best we’re all teachers.” ~Maya Angelou

It’s a great day, Journeyer, and it’s about to get EVEN BETTER!
Today, we have the opportunity to change lives.
Many lives.
You and me and Chicken of the Sea and the neighbors filling the rooms next door to us are about to make a difference of the Nth degree kind.
Across America people are preparing for Back to School.
Some of us are shopping at places like the Gap, where I once saw a woman ring up a tab of nearly six-hundred dollars on two outfits.
Some of us are shopping at outlet malls or back-to-school sales or at big-box retailers.
Some of us are shopping at thrift and second-hand shops.
Some of us are not shopping because the event hasn’t found its way into our busy schedules.
Some of us are not shopping because we don’t have the financial means to make those purchases or the physical means to get us there.
And, sadly, there are those among us who are not shopping because their personal priorities conflict with their children’s needs.
For those of us who can and do, there is a great deal of excitement and anticipation mixed in with a little stress and anxiety about the unknown for us and for our kids.
Those same things hold true for many of those students whose parents cannot come up with the means and for those of parents who won’t.
But for many of those children there is a great sense of dread, an overwhelming angst about how they are going to fit in, how they are going to be able to do their homework on empty stomachs, or how they’re ever going to be able to stay awake in class after a night of sleeping on a hard, cold floor.
And though our system is stressed to splitting its support seams, there are millions of people who are working hard to give these children what they need to survive and to thrive to the best of their ability and in spite of their environmental circumstances.
Some of those people are the teachers that stand in the front of their classrooms.

Having been involved in the wings of our education system for many years, I know that these leaders are more than educators.
Many of these people are, to the children, like the parents that are missing from the home equation.
Year after year I watch as these mentors spend countless dollars on supplies for their classrooms, most of the time these materials are for the students of those families who won’t or can’t.
Additionally, though, these givers are also spending their hard-earned dollars on items to help enrich their curriculums and programs, to enhance creativity, and to make the classroom more functional for all of its children.
I have teacher friends who regularly pool their financial resources with colleagues to purchase pure necessities like socks and pants and shoes.
Though teachers are allowed to write off a certain amount of these job-related expenses, the people I know far exceed the expenditure cap.
This recent Forbes article shines a tiny little light on the gravity of this generosity.
What teachers want and desperately need are classroom books and pencils and crayons and binders and flash drives and even bigger items like iPads for special needs students.

These are the gifts that we can wear day in and day out, they are the material things that are seen and used and blessed with thanksgiving almost every single day.
After I wrote that article, I had this big idea to do a grand scale drive and to donate collected materials to teachers in need everywhere.
I purchased some supplies to start off the endeavor, but when The Five Facets work began to take off, my attentions were redirected.
But the idea has stayed with me.
When school supplies started hitting the stores a month ago, I bought a few more items to add to the stash.

As you know, I’ve spent most of the summer on the road and following a very hectic schedule, one that hasn’t allowed me the time to take on such a venture.
But something happened three days ago, Journeyer.
I’m calling it Serendipity.
On August 9th, I stumbled upon Stephanie Weaver’s blog post Gratitude, Good Deeds, and Paying it Forward with Chicken of the Sea, and her call for entries to a $250 pay-it-forward sweepstake challenge she was facilitating for Chicken of the Sea.
I entered with my idea about providing much needed supplies to teachers. Then I forgot about it.
There were two-hundred responses by wonderful women and maybe a few men who had some of the most fabulously charitable thoughts, like the woman who was going to purchase fresh produce for elderly residents.
My little inspiration and I were lucky enough to be randomly selected.
The time to act is now.

No more excuses or putting this on the back burner, and I might add that I’m so thanking my lucky stars because I no longer have to worry about all those glue sticks drying out!
Here’s what I’ve decided to do, Journeyer.
I’m taking the $202.37 royalty payments from Digging for the Light: One Woman’s Journey from Heartache to Hope and adding the balance to match Chicken of the Sea’s pay-it-forward campaign.
Five-hundred dollars, Journeyer!
I’m so excited, and though I’d love to give to every educator with a need, I’ve got to make it count in as many ways as possible.
I’m going to take advantage of back-to-school sales, purchase as many items as I can, and donate fifty dollars worth of school supplies to ten deserving teachers.
Here’s where you come in, Journeyer.
Are you ready?
Put on those thinking caps because there are many ways for you to join in!
I’m going to select five of those teachers from my own back yard, and I’d like to choose the remaining five from your suggestions, matching needs to my stash.
That’s #1, nominate a deserving teacher here.
Spread this invitation like unbridled knowledge.
Spread it anywhere and everywhere! And if you’re on Google+ or Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter be sure to mention us!
Hashtag #BestTeachersGifts
I’d also be super-stoked if you’d click those little Like and Add buttons, too!
Some of you will be thinking We can reach more than ten teachers. We need to reach even more!
We do and we can!!
Start your own collection. If you’re a homeroom mom, ask parents to contribute whatever they are able to toward a collective Christmas or end-of-year gift for your child’s class.
Or, if you don’t have school-aged children, start a collection through any groups you belong to and make a donation to a local school.
If you want to do more but aren’t in a position to start your own collection, purchase items and send them to The Five Facets. If you have a target audience, let me know. I’ll do everything I can to match the supplies with an instructor with a similar wish.
If you have access to coupons or discounts or think of any other way to maximize these efforts I’d love to hear from you!
If you know a business you think might be willing to participate, send them to our site.
If two heads are better than one, then many minds are just downright genius and glorious!
Maya Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. At our best we’re all teachers.”

When we understand the value of giving, when we practice paying it forward, then so we edify philanthropy.
Thank you, again, Stephanie and Chicken of the Sea for making this possible.
Thank you, Journeyer, for whatever small or big part you are willing and able to play in this endeavor!
We have until October 15th, at which time I’ll finalize the ten recipients and begin packaging the items to send out around November 1.
Ready. Set. Sponsor! Share! Shop!
Until we meet again, yours in healing, hope, and happiness…

    ~AE