I recently had the opportunity to attend my first writer’s retreat. I have been to writers conferences which I’ve found helpful and invigorating, but a retreat looked to me like a time go get away and spend large chunks of time working on a manuscript. At home, I struggle terribly with interruptions, some imposed by others, some self-imposed. It is one reason my book took so long to complete. At 74 I feel that the years before me to write are few. It is too late to be a Michener.

There are at least four books yet that I would like to write. I have devised a plan to start a  new book every six months with the hope that, if I work every day, I will be able to complete one before I launch another. A retreat felt like the perfect opportunity to get started on my second book. My publisher alerted me to a retreat being planned by another Beavers Pond writer, Elaine Koyama. She named the experience Retreat2Write. It was to take place in her cabin on a lake less than two hours away. I signed up. It took place the weekend of October 5.

First, let me say, the retreat did provide time to write. But this was just the first of the gifts of Retreat2Write. I will list these gifts as I discovered them.

The first gift was Elaine Koyama herself. I was taken by surprise by such a warm, open, down-to-earth woman. She showed me to my room and chatted happily about the guests who would be arriving in the next hour or two. She told me about herself. She is a writer in the work she does, she told me, but now she wanted to write about her story of a small town girl from Montana that made it big as  a woman in the corporate world. Like me, she had a plan and this retreat was as much for her as for the attendees. But her self-talk was short. She launched quickly into asking questions about my writing. She wanted to know all about my book and about what I was planning to do next. She had many suggestions about marketing my book – good ones. I was soon to learn that marketing is her field of expertise and through the weekend, she was not hesitant to share her gift with the writers. This was the gift that I least expected and one that I desperately needed.

The second gift of the weekend were the writers who attended. There were only five of us. (Another was unable to come at the last minute). Such a diverse group and Elaine moved us quickly into a place where we could be open and trusting of one another. We were diverse in age with me being the oldster and Andy, Elaine’s nephew being the youngest. We were diverse in ethnicity with Elaine and her nephew, Andy, being Japanese and Sonya Native American, Linda and I each Polish and German. We were diverse as writers as well. Two memoirs, a fiction,  a book on recovery and a screen play. What amazed me is the level of insight each brought out of their medium that shined a unique light for the other writers in their work.

The third gift was to me personally. Andy, an actor by trade, offered to perform one chapter of my book, The Memorial of Jesus. The chapters are monologues, friends of Jesus sharing intimate memories of him after his death. The story I chose was a character whom Jesus confronted with the truth of how he had harmed his brother. It was an emotional piece and it was an amazing experience for me as the writer to see it performed.

Elaine plans to repeat Retreat2Write in the future. I will keep my writing friends and readers attune.

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Writers at the Great River Regional Library

I had an opportunity to appear at Great River Regional Library in Little Falls today along with other Morrison County writers. I am grateful to Laura Hanson for setting up this opportunity. Laura is the director at the library and brings her writer’s lens to the programs offered for the community. After all, I pointed out to her, behind every book on the shelves, there is a human being that had an idea and worked their heart out to bring a story to life so that people can learn and experience joy in life. How great it is to meet these people!

I am so excited that my book, The Memorial of Jesus, is in the library system. Libraries have been friends to me all my life starting with the little library on Lawrence Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. All through my childhood and teen years and in the first half of my married years, I could not have afforded to buy a book, but my opportunity to read was forever nearby. Nowadays, I make a point of buying books from authors from my area especially those I personally know. I will even read a book that I would not normally choose just to support a writer.

This is my second opportunity to appear with other authors to sell my book since it was published in June. The first opportunity was in Hackensack, MN in August. Between the two events, selling only one book would not  be considered a success. This is true if selling a book was one’s only goal. I have already learned that book signings, especially in writer clusters, is not the best for me. There are other places I need to go and some of these are already on the calendar. The real benefit for me was to meet with other writers that I now view as peers. I did not know until now that the challenges of writers is so common among them.

This commonality with other writers is one reason such an event is so meaningful to me, but there is another. Two people who approached my table were writers. One was a teenager who said she felt different from her peers because she loved to read and write so much. “You are not different, but you are definitely unique.” I said. “You just haven’t found your writing pals yet. They are there among the kids you go to school with who, just like you, feel different and alone.” I talked to her about myself as a teen writing stories that I never did anything with. Like her, I felt alone and different. But I loved writing so much, I just kept doing it.

Another person I spoke to was a young man who has a completed story and is now trying to figure out how to get it published. I couldn’t tell how computer savvy he is, though I assume he is much more so than this old lady. I loved encouraging him. I invited both he and the teen to the Great River Writer’s meeting.

There were other connections made that were more heart-to-heart connections than anything else. I spoke to an Ojibwe writer who adapted a children’s book to be more meaningful for native children. I visited with a teacher of English from Pierz who talked about recognizing the seeds of writers in some of his students. One woman was a water-color artist and we shared the meaning of creativity as Spirit moving through us using our gifts as medium.

I truly want people to read Memorial, but I am beginning to think that from a Divine perspective, the book is achieving its purpose in my life without any transfer of money. I shared this idea with my daughter after I got home and she reminded me, “Isn’t the money for the sale of you book intended to help finance the publication of your next book?” Oh, yeah. I remember that now.

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Lewis & Clark Expedition

Bernie and I returned from our first trip to the northwest area of this beautiful country. There have been times I so wanted to be a world traveler, but hopes of that are waning as I realize the shortness of my life yet to live. But, heck, this piece of property we call the United States is amazing. AMAZING!

This was our fifth trip with Road Scholar, once known as Elderhostel. We even got a video from its president congratulating us on have done five. We have been on educational adventures in Nachez, Mississippi,  in Sedona, Arizona, in Eastport, Maine and in Costa Rica. This is a commercial, by the way, for those of you who call yourselves seniors. I am not sure of the age limit…55 or 60, but I can tell you that on this last trip, 55 or 60 would have been considered young. New knees and canes abounded. But so did books and journals. These people were curious about history and culture and life. I loved being with them.

The program was called “Lewis & Clark: The Columbia and Snake Rivers by Small Ship.” The ship was indeed small. Our room had a double bed in it pushed against a wall so Bernie had to crawl over me to go to the bathroom during the night. The bathroom was so tiny it had both the toilet and shower in it. People on the ship who were campers said it felt like home. There was no closet to hang clothes, butt here were shelves and hooks on the wall. In spite of the cramped quarters, being on the boat, er ship, was amazing. The Columbia River moved us along lush green hills to desert rock mountains in the three days we traversed east. I liked the closeness of the shores. For some reason I have always dreaded being on a boat where I cold not see the shore. This was perfect.

The goal of the adventure was to educate the guests about the the Lewis & Clark’s expedition as ordered by President Jefferson. He had several goals in mind but the most important were to find a passage overland to the Pacific Ocean and to let the various Native tribes know that they now had a Great White Father that they could depend upon for all their needs. Our teacher was historian Don Popejoy who was amazing in his knowledge of the expedition. I especially liked him because he delved into the personalities and character of the participants. His way of teaching history is not unlike how he is as a man who loves people. He loved getting to know us and often teasing us or making fun of himself. Nothing slipped him by.

I happen to love learning history and find that being in the places where history was made is by far  the best way to learn. I am a reader as well and am usually reading a history book along with my other reading. I have read extensively about the Lewis & Clark expedition. Currently I am reading a book of letters written by women who settled the west in the 1800’s. Strange. I hated history in school, but back then history was about wars and male leaders and inventors and, God forbid, about dates that all of this stuff happened. As a person that cannot remember any of the addresses of the places I have lived over my lifetime, having to remember dates was impossible for me and my grades showed it. Yet here I am learning like crazy as though I am making up for lost time.

I will share more in the days to come about the trip, taking a break now and then to talk about life as I like to do.

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Glad to Be Back

It is good to be back. I don’t mean home, I mean to my blog.

We made two mistakes in packing for our trip (which I will tell you about in the days to come). The first mistake was that we packed too many clothes. This was one of those last minute disagreements that Bernie and I had as we packed. I have had the experience of packing for several days using only a carry-on. I have learned that I can wear a shirt two or three times as long as I shower each day and wear deodorant. I know that if I get a stain on something, I can use a little magic pen to get it off or I can wash something in one spot and let it dry laying over my motel room bed. I can put my pills in a little container. I can even fit in a couple of books, a crossword puzzle book and my journal.

Bernie noted that the suggestions for packing by Road Scholar included that we bring clothes to dress nicely for dinner. I poo-pooed this idea. I thought that I would look just fine in a t-shirt and jeans as long as I put on a pair of earrings. I was right. He never wore the nice shirt or either of the two nice pairs of slacks or the nice shorts he packed. And I never wore the bulky new sweater I had bought a week before the trip that he insisted I bring because he thought I looked nice in it.  I am convinced that we could easily have left one of our carry-ons home or possibly the large check-in had I done the packing alone.

That was the first mistake. The second was not bringing the computer. Rightly, I knew we wouldn’t be able to use it on board the sip and we were far to busy to be fussing with the computer. But after we hit land and spent three nights at motels traveling Oregon, both of us suffered withdrawal. Bernie uses the computer to read the news in the morning and to play games when he is bored. Watching him pace when he wanted to relax and veg. was a bit like watching a gorilla in a cage. As for me, I missed writing my blog. I took to making comments on Facebook that looked exactly like blog posts. My comments were lengthy and opinionated and I took political sides when I have vowed to avoid doing that in my writing. I even threw Jesus in at the end of one blog. I sounded like a g-d evangelist.

I wrote an apology the next day and wrote no more.

Now I am home and my fingers are flying. I am soooo happy to be here where I can think deeply about what I believe, where I can poke around for information so that I don’t make unfounded statements, and where I can consider my readers more kindly.

As for the trip, We went on a Lewis and Clark Adventure on a small ship on the Columbia River for 8 days. Yes, I want to tell you about it.,,but not now. I have stacks of laundry to fold and put away…

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I am writing today about to a comment posted in response to yesterday’s blog about downsizing, which we seniors talk about all the time. I have been downsizing for years. One reason is that I don’t have the energy to care for things any more. I have come to look at stuff as needing dusting, packing away and keeping track of or move around to make more room for new stuff. Some stuff we continue to hold for our children who are still raising children that bring so much stuff into their homes that they just don’t have room for those things we are storing for them until some future date when said children will leave and take their stuff along with them (in their dreams!)

As for those things that are supposed to bring back fond memories of events and people from my past, I am so used to having them around, I no longer see them much less remember the events and people. This isn’t totally true. Guests coming into our home will notice and ask questions that draw my attention to an object or picture. I remember when once visiting my cousin Franny in Wisconsin and commenting on a vase sitting on her buffet. She handed it to me and said, “Take it, It’s yours. I am downsizing.” I kept my mouth shut after that. I may start that practice.

The memories, on the other hand, are still there in my head more and more like feelings than visuals. I don’t have to look at the little banners Bernie and I got at the end of our service trip in Guatemala in order to remember. The experience comes to mind every time I see on the news information about those coming to our southern boarders trying to escape poverty and violence in their home countries of central America. I remember that the parents of Guatemala love their children as much as we love ours and I feel pain when I see children ripped from their mothers arms. I recall when seeing immigrants in our area wearing their colorful garb how color changed the look of poverty as we walked the streets of Guatemala. I don’t need the artifacts to recall the smiles of children running about in bare feet and t-shirts depicting American baseball teams, getting all excited about the bubbles we brought.

As for gifts given to us by friends and relatives over the years, I remember the kindness and love that prompted them. My cousin Franny remembered, too, and she made it a practice to give these items back to their givers. I am not sure whether that is a necessarily an appreciated practice, but she didn’t have to deal with the item when she and her sister moved into senior housing. Her attitude was that she was going to discard it anyway. If someone liked it enough to give it to her, they might like it enough to either have it back or pass it on to someone else.

My problem right now is that stuff keeps coming in. I don’t live alone. Much of what I have I share ownership with others. The day will come when most will be gone. My friend Olie, now living at Good Shepherd care facility, has few of her belongings hanging on her wall or occupying the shelves of her dresser. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to choose what would be saved and she misses some things. But, so far, she still has the memories that those lost items once evoked. And she still remembers me. For this I am grateful.

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Lightening My Life as Energy Wanes

I turn 74 in a couple of weeks. Bernie and I will be ending our trip on the Columbia River that day and heading south along the Oregon coast toward Northern California. I am not sure how many of these types of trips we will be taking in the future. I am excited for the adventure, but conscious of how much energy and planning are involved.

Energy and brain power are waning for sure. Add to this is the long list of things I would like to do while I am still here. I have made a commitment for next year, the first of my resolutions:

  • No longer do I want to serve in any leadership capacity. The younger people can take this over. It is sometimes hard to let go and watch, but I have to remember that any skills I have acquired mostly from floundering. Let them flounder…be a cheerleader.
  • No more planning of big events. Say yes, perhaps, to taking on a role at an event I intended to attend anyway. Be helpful, but let others make the decisions.
  • Continue to serve but in a more spontaneous manner. Visit the sick, feed the hungry, give clothing to the naked, care for the widows and children…but only those right in front of me. To combine service with relationship is my favorite way to give.
  • Take time for those things that I love: writing, prayer, nature, and communicating with other seekers.
  • Live simply in order to keep my footprint upon the earth as light as possible. Spend money on things that fill my soul rather than my house.


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Belief or Faith…What Does God Want?

My spirituality book club has chosen a new book that we will be discussing in October, Knocking on Heaven’s door by Katy Butler. Because I order so many books, I usually get them used on Amazon. I don’t like my practice because it doesn’t really support the writers. However, I am very prone to buy books when I have an opportunity to meet authors at book fairs, signings and readings. In the end, I spend more money on books than I do on clothes.

The subtitle of Butler’s book is The Path to a Better Way of Death. The first two chapters refresh my memory of the years I cared for my mother and her later months of life. I was more present to her than my two brothers. Like Butler, I was the woman in the family caught between child care and parent care. It was the way things were for women. I tried desperately to fit into my full-time work time to visit Mom (she knew no one in Minnesota as we’d plucked her out of Illinois after my father’s death), making appointments and taking her to doctors (she could neither drive nor speak), and attending to her day-to-day needs for supplies (or trinkets). I can’t deny that there were days when I felt exhausted and unappreciated. Yet, today I would not give up one of those days.

Butler’s book is not one I would have chosen myself. I am getting weary of reading about aging bodies and death. I would prefer to read about child development or different cultures or the history of our country. But books like hers keep showing up and saying “pay attention.”

This morning, I read something that struck me. I have often struggled to understand the difference between belief and faith. Butler shares a moment she had when she visited her mother and dad and they sat together one morning for a 20 minute meditation. It was her idea to do it believing that it might help all of them deal with the realities at hand: her dad thrown into dependency by a stroke, her mother thrown into the caregiver role and she, the only daughter, trying to manage care details from her home on the country’s opposite coast. First she shared a humorous but annoying moment when her mother kept try to kill a fly with her slipper. Butler struggled with her knee-jerk tendency to snark at her. Rather, she tried her most recently learned self-help technique called Nonviolent Communication. She breathed and recited in her mind a prayer of gratitude for being with them. She says she later looked back at that experience and others like it as a year of grace. She writes:

I did not believe in God then, and I don’t now. But the closest I can come to explaining what happened during that year of grace is to describe a Christian poster I once saw and thought at the time was sentimental, of footprints along the damp sand of a beach.The script along the bottom read, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Interesting words for a person who claims to be an atheist. Here is my thought: We can talk about one’s need to believe in order to enter into some kind of relationship with God. But does God really require belief? I think what God wants from humans has nothing to do with some mindful agreement with someone’s idea of God. Rather, what is required is faith, simple live-in-the moment faith. It is being able to love and hope in all these very human experiences we are having.

Posted in Family, Life, Spirituality | 2 Comments