Where we are in the space we’re in.

February 8, 2017


Dear Dr. Greer,

Thanks for being a history teacher who thought, among a myriad of other important things, that knowing the where of where we were studying just might make a difference in how we viewed the world.

Sometimes, I didn’t much like you for it, and certainly didn’t appreciate it. I mean really, who wants a test with a blank map of Europe or Southeast Asia to fill in? Well, now at fifty-four years old, I can say this girl—woman, lady, whoever—does.

Yep. Give me an atlas with a cup of tea and it’s a big Friday night. It’s all the places I’ve been or places I’ll go, spread out before my eyes, full of memories, dreams, adventures and a chance to do it all again.

I like my GPS fine. I do have an underdeveloped sense of direction when in the car, so it keeps me on track and out of trouble. But at the same time, I need to know “where I am in space” relative to where I’ve been and where I’m going. Something a GPS can’t really tell us.

A few years ago, I worked with a group of neuro therapists for a while, interviewing their brain injury clients and writing their stories (one of the best projects I ever had).

For some of those people, who were perhaps re-learning to walk, re-focusing their vision, or re-organizing their thoughts, it was also of utmost importance to regain the ability of knowing where they were in the space they were in. It sounds so simple when you have that ability, but take it way? I imagine it’s a lot like waking up and not knowing where you are, except it’s for more than a split second of that panic; it’s utter panic. It was a cognitive ability that had to be re-learned before they could make other strides forward in their road to recovery.

We left Santa Fe, New Mexico the first day of September, 2016, after spending the entire month of August there. (It’s a blessing to be able to work wherever we are.) We made the drive over from Charlotte to Santa Fe with two English setters onboard. One is old and (totally) blind and one is young with a touch of crazy just for fun. We went west in a meandering through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas kind of way.

But when it came time to think about coming back, with the two setters still with us, we got out the atlas again. Even though we decided to come straight through on I-40 toward Charlotte, I still needed to see the space I’d be in. I needed a sense of where I would be relative to this giant country of ours. New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina all in a row.

And I knew a little something and a little history about every one of them, I’m sure, in part, thanks to your 4-choice multiple-choice tests that were, let me tell you, hard. (I totally digress, but you used to tell us you gave us that kind of test to prepare us for college, despite our begging you to just let us wait until we got to college, where, sure enough, there was that same style test, waiting for me in Communication 101.)

In your classroom, while working and worrying through those blank maps, I was unaware that I was being launched on a life-long journey through the time and space I’m in, places I would go, adventures and misadventures I would live through (so far). But I was. And I’m so, so glad. I’ll never look back and wish it hadn’t happened.

You made a difference. I’ve been to every state now except Alaska. But what are forty-nine states in comparison to the impact you had on thousands of kids who sat in your classroom, learning where they were and where they could go?

Too many of us are just out there wandering in the wilderness, with no idea where we are or where we’re going. This world needs more people like you to help them fill in the blank spaces. I suppose now you’re in a place those of us here haven’t gone, and don’t have the knowledge, or imagination, to understand or grasp where it is in space. So, safe travels, Dr. Greer, and if you have time, send us a map, and preferably not a blank one.

Missing the connections: Living a dot-to-dot life update.

January 26, 2016

I posted, for the New Year, a blog about my resolution to live more of a dot to dot life. How am I doing? Let’s put it this way: I was raised Southern Baptist and I can backslide with the best of them.

I told a friend back around Thanksgiving that I felt I was in a “be still and know” place. And I was. For about two seconds.

I’m trying. And then the siren song of the big picture takes over and I just want to jump right into it. Wiggle my nose and be there. Get back to the future, where it looks fun and exciting. To say it in plain English, I haven’t done very well at all.

And then came the snow/sleet/ice storm. A time to slow down, because that’s how we do it here. A time to breathe it in and enjoy the moment. Also during the storm, I hurt my back.

It was while pulling kittens from a storm drain while the sleet pelted my face, making the way too, too treacherous and slippery for just one woman. Was the story one friend said I should tell. Sledding down a steep and long hill at a breakneck speed like I was twelve again, before being thrown and rolled onto an icy hard surface and coming to a painful stop. Was the story I wanted it to be. Awkwardly leaning over a chair and a cat to look out the window when it was really coming down and straightening back up quickly with a weird twist. Is what actually happened.

Dot one. Slow down. Dot two. Breathe. Dot three. Don’t take out your frustration out on the people and animals who are forced to live with you. Back to dot two. Dot four. Don’t complain and whine to anyone who will listen. Crap. Back to dot three. Sorry about that.

So, that’s how my dot to dot life is going currently. It’s being FORCED on me. I should know better. I believe whether you pray for something, throw it to the universe, have friends and loved ones who will hold you accountable to the things you say and they can tell you mean it—whatever—it’s OUT now, and off you go. Even when you go slowly, stiffly and gingerly.

Resolutions can be everything you ever dreamed of and more. Or less. I hope yours are going well, or if they were only worth thinking and not doing, that you’ve tossed them out with other clutter and moved on.

I’m still determined. This set back (so to speak) is not really that. It’s just a set of dots to connect. And the realization that you can’t miss any of the numbered connections. That there’s an order to seeing the big picture.

Dot five. Take another Aleve.


A dot-to-dot life and other aspirations for 2016

December 30, 2015

On my birthday last month, a good friend asked me what I wished and hoped for in the next year. I completely drew a blank. Finally, laughing, I said, “I can tell you what I’m looking forward to in the next five years or the next five days, but in the next five months? I have no idea.”

While in Fernandina Beach’s Book Loft last fall, I picked up a Sue Monk Kidd book I had never seen before, titled Firstlight. While flipping through, I found a passage describing how the author was trying to  approach life as a dot to dot puzzle. My immediate application to my own tiny life: See the big picture but take it step by step.

Considering this life application further, I began to wonder if I actually see the big picture as a hope, dream or aspiration for the future, with no clear view of what it takes to get there. I do think of myself as a big picture person, but I could be wrong about that. What if it’s more like I live as if tomorrow is today without the work? Without connecting all the dots it takes to get there?


So, for 2016, I aspire to live a dot to dot life. Will I finish the picture I envision? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s just what I need to do. Take a breath and go from one to just two. Take a swing upward and connect two to three. A big stretch across connects three to four. You get the picture.

Some of you may think more in terms of a paint by number life. Or; Step 1: Unwrap all the parts. Step 2: Snap part A on to part B, may better suit how other brains work. My yogi friends already know one must start with Child’s Pose. Everyone has a unique way of getting to the big picture.

I’m confused as to why this is so hard for me, personally. I can read a book from Page 1 to The End without skipping ahead. I can follow a recipe. I can even follow directions if I choose to do so. It all makes perfect sense and actually gives me a sense of calm and accomplishment.

So why is it I can’t see where I am going in the next few months? Is it my own proclivity to focus on the whole picture? Is it all the noise and immediacy of media not only ringing in my ears but clouding my eyesight? Are the possibilities too great and wonderful? Am I blessed with so many options I have no idea which one to reach for? Yes, yes, yes and finally, yes.

What can I do about it? I don’t know, other than what I should have been smart enough to do a long time ago. Just start with the first dot, hoping to do a better job in 2016 of connecting them all, or some, one by one. And maybe if I do, I’ll have a clearer picture of what I want to strive for in the next twelve months.

Okay, here goes. I’ve made myself focus only on getting from dot 1 to dot number 2 on a couple of life things already. Once there, I’ll move on to dot number 3. Hey, can I use different colored pencils for each connection? You know, to make it more fun.

So, please wish me luck, as I wish you a year filled with good health, much love, dreams and dreams come true. And, a big picture vision that inspires you to start connecting the dots, painting by number, following the steps—whatever you do however you do it—joyfully, prayerfully, purposefully and mindfully.

Happy New Year!




The Lion and the Baby

December 22, 2015

It’s Christmas, and I find myself feeling that a baby Jesus won’t do this year. Sorry, Ricky Bobby, but your prayer to “Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent” just doesn’t do it for me right now, even with the “omnipotent” part.

Nope. 2015 has made me want the heavenly angels to be singing “Hail, hail Lion of Judah” instead of “Glory to the newborn King.” And even though I know and trust that God-of-the-Angel-Armies could fit in a manger because that’s how it went down, still, y’all …

The 25th is bearing down on me, and I’m more ready for that “dark and silent night” to be “the Light that shines in the darkness.”

In all honesty, thinking of a child being delivered in a stable is not leaving me as breathless this year as much as thinking of the Deliverer. I feel like I’m frantically seeking the Lord God Almighty while Wise Men in nativity pageants everywhere bow before a baby doll.

I’ve already got a prayer list a mile long for 2016. Wouldn’t EL SHADDAI be a more likely recipient, given the events in 2015, than a Baby King? I’m looking to the Spirit to hear the cry of my heart, and intercede with groans that words cannot express.

So, this Christmas, my focus is on The Lord of Hosts and not so much the heavenly hosts—or the stable, manger, shepherds, etc. The children were darling in their nativity costumes and I enjoyed the adorableness. Darling adorableness just isn’t breaking through this year, no offense to anyone, especially the Most High.

Look, I get it. God meets us where we are and sometimes that’s in the middle of the night in Bethlehem. Sometimes it’s somewhere else. Sometimes we can’t find God. Sometimes we find ourselves grasping desparately to understand the Mystery, even knowing that we won’t while we still have breath.

Ricky Bobby argues his case for praying to the Baby Jesus, continuing, “Well, look, I like the Christmas Jesus best when I’m sayin’ grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grown-up Jesus, or Teenage Jesus, or Bearded Jesus, or whoever you want.”

I never thought I would find myself thinking this, but, “Well said, Ricky Bobby. Well said.”


Taking a Trip

August 13, 2015

In the next few days, we leave for another trip. Vacation. Adventure. Some time away. Getting out of Dodge. I love to travel. It’s been one of the greatest blessings of my life and of our thirty-plus-year marriage. My heart speeds up at the thought of seeing something else for the first time. And let’s face it, as the years go by, that quest to find, see or do something new under the sun grows more urgent.

Travel satisfies—the mountains, the beach, the lake, a national park—even if it’s somewhere I’ve been many times before, because I’ve never been there at that particular moment in time. Going somewhere is always different, depending on the day, the weather, our age, who we’ve lost since the last time, and who has come into our lives since we were there.

We all have our travel stories. Where we went when we were younger. What we did with the kids. Getaways full of passion and trips when we were sick the whole time. Maybe really sick. Scary sick. Anyway.

The point is, I believe there is a travel bucket in all of us that needs to be filled. Mine very well may have a crack in it and can never stay filled. I’m comfortable with that. Trying to fill mine has taken me all over the country and many parts of the world so far. Filling your bucket may take you to the lake on Sundays (I will happily join you any time you want) or to a family beach house. But you’ve got a bucket, even if you keep it safely tucked away in the garage or basement.

I have friends who went on a grand tour of Europe, one who went to a family wedding on Cape Cod and three (3!) friends who have each taken trips to Japan this summer. And this I know from my own travels—when they got back—home sweet home was sweeter. They were happy to reach into their underwear drawer instead of a suitcase. Shoes they were forced to leave behind looked like old friends. Their pets gave them a welcome home parade. And over the first few days back, ordinary became, for a time, extra ordinary. Normal was a refreshed new normal.

Yes, when we return, recharged and renewed, we’ll pull up to our house and my heart will beat a little faster. Without leaving, you can’t come home. And as everybody knows, there’s no place like home to plan your next trip.


Henry Turns Ten

July 27, 2015

s626359383_580516_7757Today is Henry’s 10th birthday. I read a blog recently that said we can hope a dog    lives to ten, then every year afterward is a gift.

Henry is a special dog. In a way that makes me think in Henry’s case, the blogger could be right. Henry had a tough ninth year. A few months before that birthday, he was struck with SARDS (Sudden Acute Retinal Degenerative Syndrome). It’s an auto immune condition that caused his immune system to attack and kill his retinas. In the span of about three weeks. (I guess that’s the SUDDEN part.) Then he was completely and totally blind. The Llewellyn setter whose favorite things were to watch birds and run like the wind. Over.

I realize that in the summer of 2015, a blind dog getting to live out his days with us is not big or tragic news. I realized it then, too, and still cried a little almost every day for months. Each day was a new day for Henry—in that every morning surprised him with darkness instead of light. I would hear him wake up and draw in his breath with fear. He was scared, anxious and depressed. We hurt for him so much.

There are only experimental treatments for SARDS. (You can Google it if you’re curious.) We did give big doses of steroids and krill oil a shot. Nothing. SARDS strikes any breed, usually between the ages of six and eight. We knew a lot about dogs and had never heard of it. It’s not as rare as you would like it to be. We were sent to the doggie ophthalmologist to confirm SARDS and rule out a tumor. It was a cruel irony to be pulling for “only” blindness. Still, we cried at the diagnosis, and if I had known how hard it would be for all of us for the weeks to come, I would have cried harder.

Liana (our other, younger rescued setter) caught on pretty fast and helped Henry (and us) so much. Still does. When he got confused in the backyard and called for help, she went running to him, guiding him back to the patio. I saw her once walking behind him with her chin on his rear, guiding him around the car in the carport. I don’t know what anyone of us would do without her. She is living up to her the meaning of her name, “Youthful Guardian.” We can still say, “Go get Bubba” and she does it like it’s her job. Because it is.

In the fall, I was spending the majority of my time working out of town, and at the suggestion of our trainer, Andy Bunn at Star Dogs Charlotte, Chuck took Henry back through Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog training. From the onset, Andy had given us the good advice to make sure Henry still knew he was a valued member of the pack and that he would be safe. Taking Henry back through training—giving him a physical and cognitive outlet—was exactly on target. Henry came out of his depression and got happier. He had already learned blind commands, “step up,” “step down,” “watch out,” and “be careful.” Therapy dog re-certification just took what he already had been trained in and gave him a new application. Today, Henry and Chuck go to the Ronald McDonald House in Charlotte and visit with the children and families there. It’s a good place for both of them.

From the onset, Henry did well on the leash, and he would occasionally break into a running stride with us. But whether from a change in gait (a blind dog has to walk carefully) or getting older, or both, he just doesn’t do that much any more. He will trot, and loves his daily walks (or two when the weather cooperates). I did see him a couple weeks ago break into a run for a few strides in the backyard after an invigorating bath. We see a lot of Hopeful Henry in Blind Henry. We went back to the beach this May and he still LOVED it. On our last day, on our last walk, he turned to face the water, and stood for a few minutes just breathing it in. He is still our sweet boy.

There are some new things. Separation anxiety reared its ugly head. And who could blame him? Luckily, as long as Liana is willing to babysit, he’s fine. (And let me take this opportunity to say our next dogs will be crate trained. A crate would have been very helpful in helping Henry.) He tires easily and causes us to wince several times a day when he hits his head or knocks his paw particularly hard. I know it has to hurt even though he just keeps on going. He’s put on weight and his Handsome Henry face is really gray.

I wondered if he would become snippy, like an old, blind dog can do, but no. I think he’s even more mellow. He greets other dogs with complete calm, isn’t startled when someone touches him, and has even tolerated my accidentally stepping or tripping over him in the middle of the night without even a grunt. He loves children, Boz the cat and even our current foster dog, Maisey, who insists on showering him with kisses several times a day. He pretty much takes everything in stride. I guess he figures after what he’s already been through …

So as Henry turns ten, even though it’s not the future we had envisioned, I am grateful he’s made it this far. His courage, resilience, and determination have inspired me to see each day, each year with him as a gift. Because it is.

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Understanding Goes a Long Way on a Rainy Day

July 3, 2015

Ten years ago this summer, my husband and I were acting as assistant directors at a children’s’ home in Ensenada, Mexico, on the Baja peninsula. It was a hard summer, and there were unexpected lessons in each speck of the dust that permeated everything.

Stepping out on my porch one summer morning, and breathing in the very, very rare, and probably the first summer shower we had, I heard a voice calling to me across the courtyard.

“You miss the rain, and you miss your mama,” said the mamasita, in Spanish she knew I could understand.

Tears leapt to my eyes, and I replied, “Yes, it’s true,” with the Spanish I knew.

So, even though it’s been ten years this summer, on a misty, rainy summer day like this one we’re having in North Carolina, I think of Chiao, and of her compassion and understanding, face to face, with universal words that in their simplicity, addressed complex feelings and the culture shock I was in.

How I use that lesson from this wise mamasita is now up to me. Loving my neighbor through understanding and simple words. Not trying to solve every problem all at once, with rants, anger, and frustration. Chiao could have been frustrated with, or even hated me. A rich white woman standing on a porch in beautiful Baja, Mexico, well-fed and well-dressed, feeling sorry for herself. (Which was really the truth of the matter, though it pains me to admit it.) Instead, she took an opportunity to look at me and offer what she had. Words that were more than words.

I’m still grateful for the compassion and understanding from a woman who did not have to offer it. Or even have it. I’m grateful for a break in the summer heat with a misty day like this one. I’m grateful for my mama. And I’m grateful for the lesson Chiao unknowingly gave me.

Why Do I Write?

February 26, 2015

When I first saw this topic for the Facebook Writing Challenge, my first thought was, “because I might get hungry if I didn’t.” And I don’t mean creatively starved or passionless. I mean hungry. Like for pizza or chicken noodle soup.

I have really wonderful clients who allow me to be their copywriter, and I help them shape their words, thoughts, ideas and content into something their audiences will (hopefully) read. It’s something I always wanted to do and something I really do love to do. I feel grateful every day that it keeps me from getting hungry, that it does feed me creatively, that I have a passion for it, and that I get to spend my hours doing it. It’s fun. Most days.

You’ve caught me on a day when the answer to “Why Do I Write?” is “I. Don’t. Know.” Because some days, well, some days… Lately I’ve been working on a project that is really stretching me as a copywriter, or a whatever. That’s great, you say. It’s good to be challenged, you say. Yes, it is. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with knowing where your sweet spot is. And this doesn’t (yet) feel like my sweet spot. As a matter of fact, this particular spot, particularly today, is in no way sweet.

On an earlier topic in this challenge, I talked about determination. That’s where I am. Determined to get it right. Determined to find something that works for everyone involved. But that’s not a satisfactory answer, at least to me, to “Why Do I Write.” Because I am determined?! Nothing as noble, heady or creative as one might imagine an answer to that question should be, and certainly not any fun.

“Why Do I Write?” Can I get back to you on that?

What would you do if you had assurance you would not fail?

February 17, 2015

Most of us are egocentric—or old—enough to have considered this question before. Or at least something like it. For instance, I’m a big believer in Plan B, or C, or, if necessary, D. I’ve had lots of Plan B’s. Soap opera star (steady work, some degree of glam and fame, but not over the top), herbalist (like certified after coursework, etc.), librarian (which would require a trip back to school) and best-selling author (which would require writing a best-selling book).

Determination, patience, confidence and focus also factors into the question. Only rarely has my determination been undermined by disappointment or enough forces against me to throw in the towel. And I mean the whole towel, throwing up my hands, walking away, shaking the dust from my feet kind of disappointment. Or, I wasn’t determined from the beginning.

And, at this point in the discussion, sorry (not sorry) to go all spiritual on you, but we already walk around with the assurance we will not fail. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” There you go. There’s your assurance. So the question, at least when I’m looking in the mirror, is then, “What’s stopping you?!”

There’s the spiritual stumper. The point where I start pointing. What keeps me from buying some property and sheltering unwanted dogs? What keeps me from retreating and writing that book? What keeps me from cooking all day with herbs I’ve grown in a garden. Well, speaking of something to eat—that. Love of money? I’m sadly sure. Funding our next travel adventure. Oui, oui!

I have the assurance I will not fail. Or fall. Or die from embarrassment. I just can’t believe it. Can’t trust it. Can’t close my eyes and fall backward. Can’t love enough. Can’t feel free enough. Can’t be assured enough.

Anyway, that was the long way of saying, “Dogs.” Something with dogs. And if people benefit as well (which they will), well, “all things work together.” It’s up to me to be assured.

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

February 14, 2015

The best thing I ever ate was actually not very good. It was during 3rd grade recess at William Biles Elementary School, and I was determined. And that determination was matched by my friend Lisa’s. So, we sat with our recess snacks and discussed it. We had tried the sharp end of a safety pin, but you would be surprised how hard and tough  10-year-old tomboys’ little hands could be. I’m not sure what else we had devised that didn’t work. It was a long time ago.

I popped the top of my Snack Pack Chocolate Pudding, absently spooned some in and kept thinking. How could we do it? How could we become REAL blood sisters? Then, I looked at the tin lid dangling from my finger by the pull ring, and I had it.

Soon, a group of girls had gathered, and the pressure was on. I licked the lid clean (yes, I did), held my right index finger out and slashed it with the edge of the tin lid in my left hand. It had worked. I’m sure there were squeamish screams from the audience, but intent, Lisa hurriedly took the lid and did the same. We rubbed our open fingers together and it was done. We were REALLY blood sisters.

A couple months ago, standing in Lisa’s kitchen with a glass of wine and her teenage boys and their friends stomping in and out, eating and making a lot of noise, we laughed again about that day. She told me that our P.E. teacher (who we immediately had gone to, shown him our fingers and asked for band aids) saw her and said, “Do you remember that time you and Aprill Bell cut your fingers open with the Snack Pack lid?”Wow. We were now in the Teachers’ Book of Lore.

But yeah,  it IS the stuff of lore, (our immunity to botulism for one thing), that almost 40 years later, in my blood sister’s warm kitchen full of love and laughter, I most certainly do remember that day, and the best thing I ever ate, on a playground, from a can, with a very handy, not-so-child-safe lid.