Morning Coffee: Journaling

Healing HeartDo you journal? I don’t. At least, not in the traditional sense. I’ve tried a few times but I always end up destroying the few pages I actually write because they either sound boring to me, or I’m afraid of who might find and read them after I’m dead. I’m never sure that’s the lasting memory of me I want floating around out there.

In a way this blog is my journal; my very public journal. I’m not going to write about any traumatic childhood memories I believe scarred me for life. I’m not going to bore anyone with tales of mean co-workers or nasty bosses. (None of which I currently have, I assure you. So if any of my readers are co-workers or bosses…I’m not talking about you…all purely hypothetical.) Instead, I can put down my thoughts in a way that’s both, I hope, cathartic for me and enjoyable, or even occasionally educational, for you.

There are many kinds of journals out there; a style for just about anyone. You have your standard notebook (spiral or not), a fancy-covered blank book, or even special computer software programs. Some, most specifically those aimed at young girls, even come with their own lock and key to keep out the prying eyes of parents and annoying little brothers.

A couple weeks ago I took to keeping what is called a “bullet journal”; although, I didn’t know it was called that at the time. I’ve always been a list-maker. Not every day, but whenever I have a number of time-sensitive tasks and I don’t want to forget one. Like when we’re planning for a party, family dinner, or house guests and I have to accomplish certain tasks on certain days to be ready. The whole point of a bullet journal is a daily to-do list. I’ve been planning mine out a week in advance. I’m certain to include my work schedule, meetings or appointments, errands, household chores, exercise, and, of course, my writing. Once it’s on the list, I’m less likely to put it off because then I’d be reminded of my procrastination every time I saw a task not checked-off as completed

You can make your bullet journal as fancy as you like. Google it and you’ll find all sorts of ideas: a simple list or a categorized list, whole lexicons of symbols representing types and stages of completion, and then there are plain pages or pages decorated with your artwork. There are books divided into daily logs, weekly logs, monthly logs, and future logs. Some are so involved they need several index pages in the beginning to help you find things later. While I chose to use a decorative blank book because it feels more official than a notebook, my pages consist of simple lists. I don’t have time to categorize my lists and there’s no way I’d be able to keep track of all the symbols. I might take the time to decorate some of the pages, should I feel in a particularly creative mood, but that would take time…and then I’d have to put it on my to-do list…and I’d have to assign it a symbol…and I’d have to put it in the index…you get the idea.

The point of my bullet journal is to balance my life and work with my writing and exercise, not to become my life. So far it’s working well. Yes, there have been a few days where I over-planned my time and something had to give, but not too many. If anything, that’s another thing I’m learning, how long it actually takes me to do something.

Morning Coffee: The Wearing of the Green

RevisionsIt’s March 17th, St Patrick’s Day! A sea of green can be seen in every office, every school room, and every bar. Parades will be held in all the major, and some not so major, cities. Little girls with bouncing ringlets and green ribbons galore will don their traditional Irish step costumes and dance their way into the hearts of onlookers. Inevitably, someone in an oversized leprechaun costume will toss gold-foil wrapped chocolates from a pot and wave to the crowds. Bands will play and toasts with green beer will ring. The Chicago River is dyed green every year in honor of the day. My point is that it doesn’t matter if you are Irish or wish you were Irish; you will probably be wearing something green while eating corned beef and cabbage or a hearty Reuben sandwich today. Although, you might be surprised to learn this traditional meal began with the immigrants to America. It was never the custom in Ireland.

St Patrick is the foremost patron saint of Ireland (AD385-461) and March 17th is believed to be the date of his death. He is not a true saint as he was never canonized by Rome, nor did he drive the snakes from Ireland because there are no snakes in Ireland (other than pets and zoos). There never have been for the simple reason that they cannot get there. What he is truly known for are his successful evangelism efforts across the Emerald Isle.

St Patrick was born in Dumbarton, Scotland (not even native Irish!). At the age of 16 he was captured and enslaved in pagan Ireland. For six years he clung to the religion of his grandfather, the beliefs he initially ignored, and prayed while herding sheep for his master. Supposedly because of a dream, he escaped and returned home to Scotland; but he returned to Ireland in his mid-40s to replace the failing evangelism efforts of Palladius. Palladius was the first to attempt to convert the Irish people to Catholicism. St Patrick had an advantage over Palladius; he was familiar with the Irish clan system. His former master, Milchu, was a Chieftain. The plan was to first convert the Chieftains, who would then convert their followers by example. Milchu was one of the first Chieftains to convert. St Patrick was quite successful in his efforts, although not the only missionary to Ireland, and soon Ireland was one of Europe’s Christian centers. This was important to 5th century Christians who believed Ireland to be one of the “ends of the earth”.

St Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast day but has become an international holiday to celebrate everything Irish. Boston has the honor of claiming the oldest US celebration going all the way back to 1737 when Irish immigrants brought the holiday with to their new home.

To all you Collins and Colleens out there, here’s a little Irish Blessing:

“May your troubles be less
And your blessing be more
And nothing but happiness
Come through your door”

Morning Coffee: The Fickle Month of March

Healing HeartSpring is a very fickle time of year. One morning you wake to a sunny day with temperatures rising into the low 60s, and then the next the clouds roll in bringing harsh winds and snow. In between you’re likely to have a strong front barrel through with severe storms and the threat of a possible tornado. March, the month that holds out its hand in promise, only to yank it away again, is the worst of all the fickle ladies of spring. We’ve seen it all and we’re only a week and a half in.

Yes, autumn can be fickle, too. Despite the occasional look forward to winter, when October takes us back to a taste of summer it’s like a good night kiss; teasing and hot with promise. On the other hand, March is your first kiss. It lets your heart flutter with the hint of what could be only to betray you with an old love, leaving you shivering in the cold of your now empty arms. You don’t know whether to dress for the dance or another night home alone in front of the television.

March is the lover your brain warns you to let go, while your heart urges you to give just one more chance. Here’s a peek ahead to ward off the uncertain times.


Morning Coffee: Imagination

Healing HeartImagination, something we’re all born with. Two year olds can spend hours stacking their toys to see what will happen. They have long, detailed, conversations with their dolls and stuffed animals. Remember playing house when you were little, or maybe cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers? So why is it so many of us lose that sense of creativity as we get older?

Children today don’t exercise the imagination portion of their brains. They play video games, watch movies, some even read books, but that’s not the same. They don’t need an imagination to watch a movie like “Star Wars” or “Avatar”. The imagination side of creating those movies has all been done for them. While a video game might help hone their problem-solving skills, again, the imagination portion of the story has been done.

When my son was young Transformers were all the rage (the first time around). He wanted them and he wanted them in the worst way. But I knew that if I bought him one I’d have to eventually buy him more; and not far down the line he’d set them aside for the next fad that caught his attention. So, I said no. He had plenty of toys and I’d have to say no. I didn’t disapprove of them; I just didn’t want to get caught-up in the hype. After he got over his disappointment he disappeared into his room only to reappear a little later to proudly show off his new Lego creations. He’d engineered his own Transformers. While over the years I have on occasion backed down to both him and his sister on other fads, I was always glad I didn’t back down on that one. He used his imagination and he got a lot more joy and pride out of those simple Lego creations than anything I could have bought him at Toys R Us.

As a writer, I get to use my imagination all the time. I’ve gone from making up stories about Ken and Barbie to making up a life story for Mary Bishop, and now Alice Armstrong. I take the characters that grow in my head and place them in different time periods and locations. I can put them in dangerous situations I hope to never have to experience personally, and then get them safely out again…all with my imagination.

Have you ever heard of a round-robin story? Try this the next time you have a snowy, or rainy, afternoon and your children are complaining they’re bored; or the next time you’re on a long car trip and they’re starting to “touch” each other in the backseat making the other scream or cry. A round-robin story is when each person takes a turn making up a part of a story; simple as that. The first person starts with “once upon a time there was…” and goes from there to set up the characters. Then each person in turn adds to the plot. You never know where the story will lead and hopefully the whining and poking will stop. I remember doing something similar in grade school where you drew a monster on the blackboard. Each person drew one part of the monster until it was done. Colored chalk made that one even more fun. If you’re in a position to do something like that, you could start out creating your monster(s) and then go right into a round-robin story about the monster(s). You could even do a little improv where each person takes on a specific character and you play-act the story, making it up as you go.

That’s just a few ideas. There are so many ways to keep imagination alive. It will make your children more well-rounded and creative-thinking adults in the end.

Morning Coffee: Spring is Coming

feetWinter isn’t done, but spring is definitely just around the corner. For the last week we’ve had mild temps in the 50s, even the low 60s. The snow is gone, except for the banks left by the plows. The smell of wet earth promises flowers soon. The first round of maple sapping was under way this past weekend. There have even been bear sightings.

Hope and promise is on the breeze. I can smell it. I can feel it. I can almost taste it. The sun is warm even when the breeze is cool and it’s still light out when I drive home from work. The greens and fairways are clear on the golf course.

Now, before you shake your heads and sigh at my naiveté, I have not forgotten it’s still only February. I’m a born and bred Wisconsinite. I know that even if spring happens to come early this year, that won’t mean winter is over. We can snow in May, although thankfully not very often! In fact, by the time you read this we might be in the grips of a blizzard. The predictions range from 8-12 inches to a dusting-3 inches by the end of Friday! What? I know, it’s crazy but that’s how the weather goes around here. Will the storm stay on its original tract or will it move south? Local meteorologists are now saying the storm has moved dramatically south and we’re on the northern edge. We won’t know who’s right until the sun comes up in the morning. But, no matter what, we will get some snow.

Well, I say if winter has to have one last (fingers crossed) blast, make it a big one. A really big one! Make it a blizzard where you can’t see two feet outside your windows and you have no choice but to stay indoors. I won’t feel guilty telling my boss I can’t get out of my driveway if I can’t even SEE my driveway. (In truth, I’m part time and have already been told to not come in tomorrow because even a dusting could make my commute slippery, so no guilt either way.) And, what better timing for a snow day than a Friday? There will be no rush to get out the next morning, either. It can be a stay in my pajamas, watch movies, read, and write kind of day.

This week’s blog, like our first taste of spring, is brief; and, like spring, I will return.

Morning Coffee: Valentine’s Day

Valentine 2This week was Valentine’s Day. That one day a year that brings to mind roses, chocolates, wine and a special dinner out. The day when the one who loves you most is supposed to do something extra to let you know, and vice versa.

When I was a growing up, my siblings and I would spend hours shaping valentines out of colored paper or, if we were lucky, mom would buy us each a box of assorted cards made special just for school aged children to share. You remember, the ones with all those corny jokes only children find funny. We’d decorate shoe boxes, cut a slit in the top, and bring them to school in the hopes they would quickly fill with cards and heart-shaped candies from our classmates. Some teachers required that if you brought a card for one you had to bring a card for all, hoping to spare the less popular kids the heartbreak of receiving only a few, or maybe none.

As we got older, valentines became something we gave a special someone, not every friend or classmate, and receiving a valentine meant someone “loved” you. Not receiving a valentine meant you were sad and alone. You could tell just by the look on a girl’s face in the hall whether or not she’d received something. It was even better if it came anonymously. Girls would spend hours, days, with their girlfriends trying to guess who the secret admirer might be.

Even as adults, long-married and confident in the love of our spouse, we still like to have that little affirmation, some simple little gesture that says “I still love you and I am so blessed to have you in my life.” But should it have to be this way?

I don’t mean the gestures that speak of our love for each other. Everyone needs that from time to time. No one should feel like they’re anything but cherished. I’m talking about having a special day on the calendar specifically designated for saying I love you. Shouldn’t every day be Valentine’s Day? Why do we have to be reminded to do something special for someone? I recognize that we live in a very busy fast-paced world but it takes little time, and sometimes no money, to do for others. A nice dinner doesn’t have to be at an expensive restaurant. Cook dinner at home and use the good china, light a candle, pour some wine. And, for goodness sake, turn off the television and turn on some nice music. Talk to each other! If you have two left feet no one has to know if you dance at home. You could even try out some new risqué moves without fear of either making a club full of people ill or, on the other hand, getting arrested for indecent behavior. Perhaps later you can read aloud to each other from a favorite naughty romance book. If you need a few recommendations, just ask. I know some people.

The point is, there are all kinds of things you can do for your loved one any day of the week or year. Use your imagination. Have a little fun. Don’t wait for February 14th to show someone you love them. Surprise him or her when they’re least expecting.

Morning Coffee: Reconnect

feetWe live in a fast-paced world where everything is tightly scheduled and there is no room for deviation. Children no longer go outside to play after school or on the weekend. They are too busy being chauffeured to their various sports activities, music lessons, and the tutoring that will hopefully get them into a better university after graduation. Even pre-schoolers have scheduled “play dates”. No one sits on their front porch anymore, waving to their neighbors as they walk by, inviting them to stop and chat over a cold drink. Most don’t even know their neighbors’ names. Children no longer play kick-the-can in the growing darkness until their mothers holler out the back door that it’s time to come in. Dad’s in one room reviewing departmental reports while mom is in another preparing for her big morning presentation in front of the Board. Meanwhile, if by chance the children are actually done with their homework, they are on their computers either perusing their social media accounts or deep into a multi-player video game, stopping only long enough to answer a text from their friend who probably lives right next door or across the street. None of them, parents included, can even sit down for a family meal together without their cell phones right there within easy reach. Ask them an hour later what they had for dinner and I’d wager a bet most of them couldn’t tell you. Did they even taste it? We live in a world of texts written in indecipherable shorthand, tweets of 140 characters or less, and emojis.

While I would say I’m better than most, I am guilty of taking phone calls, reading emails, and answering texts during a meal…unless in public or at dinner with friends. Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often. Nonetheless, I do feel the loss of connection with other people. I do often choose email or texting over phone calls. When was the last time you received or wrote a letter? I’m talking about a traditional letter, the kind that comes in an envelope delivered to your box by the US Postal Service along with your bills, magazines, and advertising flyers.

I have one friend, Virginia, who writes me regular letters. She always encloses copies of interesting articles, short stories, and poetry that she’s read. She’s a marvelous poet who lives back in New York State, and belonged to my writers’ group there for years. I can’t tell you how much I love seeing that fat envelope in our mailbox. Sometimes it’s hand-written, sometimes typed, but it always feels like she’s right there with me as I read it. I can even hear her voice. We learned early on that we share a birthday. This year she will turn 90. (I will not.) How fast the years go by.

I know that it won’t be too many more years, if even that long, before the letters stop coming. It makes me sad. I’ve attempted writing to other old friends now far away and they don’t respond. I guess they’re too busy to take the time to do more than quick well-wishes in a store-bought birthday or Christmas card, and some not even that. For a while I wrote long letters to everyone in my old writers’ group but I’ve fallen into the habit of emailing with two and only writing to Virginia. Sad thing is, the fourth woman does not have email so I tend to just say, “Pass this on”, when I email one of them. I will make an effort to write them more “real letters” from now on. And I will continue to try and reconnect with others in this manner. I don’t want to get to the day where I can never again look forward to a letter in my mailbox.

If you don’t already, do me a favor and reconnect with someone through pen and paper. Let’s not allow this wonderful old tradition of letter-writing to come to an end. Without letters preserved, what will future generations have to look back and study when they talk about us?