Do You Take Time For Self Care?

Feeling Crappy!

How I look when I’m feeling crappy!

When I took a long break from social media this past winter I found there was a good reason to have the extra time to just plain deal with life. That was when Bill’s knee blew out and I needed the extra time to take care of him. He is slowly improving after his surgery to repair a torn meniscus and to remove the arthritis that had been building up in the knee. But he still isn’t 100%. His doctors are telling him it’ll be another four or five months before he’ll be back to normal. So he goes to the gym, works out on a recumbent bike to keep his muscles working and puts up with feeling frustrated and the almost continuous pain.

Our acceptance of what seems like a major intrusion in our lives is growing and we’ve settled in, taking the summer one day at a time. This week he went off to Ukulele Camp in North Carolina. He drove himself down there stopping every hour or so to keep his knee working. He’ll be bringing home new tunes with which to serenade me and hopefully this adventure will help with his frustration level. Yes, our minds needs care, too.

Now after another three week break, I’m back. It was a much needed time in which I took care of some loose odds and ends I’d been ignoring … like the chronic pain I’ve been experiencing for years and my sometimes complete exhaustion. I am one of those women who takes care of everyone around her but herself, though now those lessons are beginning to take hold.

After spending almost two years watching my daughter deal with Chronic Lyme disease and feeling helpless because I couldn’t help her in any way, I finally caved into the fact that my symptoms were very similar to hers. Because I didn’t have major deadlines for a while, I decided to go see the Lyme Disease specialist here in Charlottesville. It turns out I do have Lyme Disease, along with the Epstein Barr virus, a parasite in my gut, and Adrenal Fatigue.

Finally knowing why I’ve been feeling so crappy has been a blessing. I must say I had an inkling of what my problem was. But still the aha moment was dizzying and very much needed. My unpredictable joint and muscle pains had been getting worse, along with headaches, and lots of brain fog. I needed long naps in the afternoons so that I could stay awake in the evenings. No amount of yoga, pilates, massage and chiropractic helped.  I pictured Bill and myself limping into the future unable to take care of each other.

IMG_1626But the news is good and I’m already beginning to feel like my old self. I’m on a homeopathic protocol. My joint pain is gone, as are the headaches. Though I still have a few sore muscles, I have much more energy and little brain fog. This week will be the third week of eight that I will spray a number of different homeopathic remedies under my tongue three times a day. I will then go to using the sprays twice a day for another eight weeks, and then go to once a day, until I meet to discuss the outcome with my care-giver. That I’ve been gluten free for several years and have recently gone lactose free has helped a lot. Most of the time I watch my sugar intake and try to keep added sugars to a bare minimum, using only honey once in a while. It’s been pretty easy. Though I miss ice cream and cheese, I’ve taken to having one or two pieces of dark chocolate when I’m feeling starved for the things I’m not supposed to eat.

I’ve always vowed I would not allow myself to become what I call a Rocking Chair Granny, unable to do much but rock on her front porch watching the world go by. When I go down I want to be doing something I love to do, still filled with curiosity and the need to learn and experience everything that excites me.

I’ve been at work, too.  I finished rereading my manuscript and sent it off for its copyedit last week, have finished reading a number of books, and am ready to go back to doing some serious work. The big difference between then and now is that I’m listening to my body and giving myself lots of time to let is rest, eat well, and get exercise.  Those things are at the very top of my What is Important list.

When was the last time you gave yourself some time to just be and see how you are feeling? Do you have a list of your most important things to take care of?

The Gifts Of Friends And Time

Janet opening uncorking wine.

Janet opening uncorking wine.

Just a week ago this past Sunday, I found myself on Chincoteague Island. The day time temperature was about 60 degrees and the sun was sparkling away on the water. I was with four other women, who I’d first met on the internet as I began my journey as a memoirist.

Known for the book, Misty of Chincoteague, written by Marguerite Henry, and illustrated by Wesley Dennis, Chincoteague is where every summer the wild ponies of Assateague Island are sent swimming across a narrow inlet to Chincoteague, where many go up for adoption to families looking to make a child’s dream of owning a pony, come true. It’s a way of managing the ever growing herd, leaving space for the next year’s babies.

Shirley preparing Waldorf Salad.

Shirley preparing Waldorf Salad.

There was Shirley, who I’d met first a couple of years ago. I’d been following her blog and knew she lived about an hour away over in the Shenandoah Valley. I was considering taking a class about book marketing and knowing that she had taken the same class earlier, I called her hoping she would give me an honest opinionn of her experience. She was just finishing work on her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. I invited her to come and stay with me during the Virginia Festival of the Book, held here in Charlottesville, every March.

She came and spent several nights with me. We enjoyed the book festival and spent lots of time talking about our writing projects. Shirley’s generosity in sharing what she knew about publishing and writing memoir was beyond anything I’d dreamed of. A few months later, I visited her for several nights in her home. She read the first couple of chapters of my book, made extremely helpful suggestions, and provided encouragement. I will be forever grateful for her views and her friendship. On this trip she was a awesome roommate and my chauffeur extraordinaire.

Janet was the second of these women I’d met in person. We’d been following each other’s blogs and chatted by email about dealing with aging mothers. I discovered that she lived in a town in Vermont where I had lived for thirteen years, and had recently written a memoir about her Peace Corps years, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe. I knew I had to meet her. On a trip to up north last fall, I gave Janet a call and we met for lunch. I read her book, and loved her story about her experiences living and working in Kazakhstan for two years. I hoped we’d get a chance to get together again. Finding out that she had a home on Virginia’s, Chincoteague Island, about 5 hours away, I invited her to come and visit anytime she was in the area. We talked briefly about how much fun it would be to get together with Shirley, and several other memoirists we both knew on the internet.

Magnificent Chef Kathy!

Magnificent Chef Kathy!

One of those other writers was Kathy, whose blog, over at, Memior Writers Journey, is one of best places to learn about blogging and writing in general. Her interviews with other memoir writers have been invaluable for me as I continue to work on my own book. She invited me to write a guest blog for her, which I did, and I cheered her on as she published her memoir, Ever Faithful to his Lead, a story about her experience finding her way our of two abusive marriages. When I asked her to be a beta reader for me I found her generosity and willingness to help me  far beyond any expectations I had. I knew I had to meet her someday.

Marian, the charming and entertaining writer over at Plain and Fancy, a blog I’ve been following for over a year, was the one I knew the least about. But her stories connecting her childhood to present day happenings is delightful, as is her use of old memorabilia, from photos to recipes, as the basis for her enchanting writings. She has just begun writing her own memoir about growing up Mennonite and her move away from being plain to a fancy member of the world. Captivated by Marian’s sense of humor and openness, I’m happy to have been able to spend time with her, and get to know her better. Despite our different backgrounds, we have a lot in common.

Marian, Kathy, and Me.

Marian, Kathy, and Me.

I know the moon and the tides played a part in sweeping us all ashore together for an unforgettable week of writing, eating healthy, home cooked meals and sharing unending laughter. Janet’s log cabin was a perfect place for such a retreat and her hospitality was unending.

Just over a week later, as snow is falling and accumulating outside my window, I’m remembering those seven days I spent on Janet’s warm sunporch, where I set up my computer and revised seven chapters of my upcoming book. Inspire by Shirley and Kathy taking a hiatus from social media for Lent, this will be my last post until April. I will not be present on Facebook or Twitter, two places that take too much of my writing time. I plan on continuing the revisions of my book, shoveling snow, and watching the crocuses and daffodils reach for the sun when all the snow is gone.

For information about renting Janet’s cabin for your own retreat go here.

Slow Cooking A Life



At age seventy-two, I’ve suddenly realized that having a happy life and living authentically, is like slow-cooking. It’s about allowing myself to gather the ingredients for a recipe and letting it simmer on the back of the stove on the lowest flame possible. When my mother taught me to make her heavenly, cure-all chicken soup, she said, “Put all the ingredients in the stock pot, bring it to a raging boil, then turn the heat down until it’s just smiling.” What she meant was that it needed to cook very slowly. There would be no bubbling; only a slight shimmer on the surface of the liquid, and then you let it sit like that all day, while you went about your business.

In 2008, I finally accepted the fact that I was struggling with PTSD. It made sense because of my history of being abused as a child, and spending most of my adult years suffering from depression and extreme anxiety. Not wanting to spend the rest of my life being unhappy, I decided to seek help and quit blaming my pain on everyone else around me. Taking full responsibility for who I am and what I put out into the world was/is my goal. After three years of therapy with a psychologist whose specialty was dealing with trauma, I was well on my way to becoming whole and finding ways to deal with life on my own terms. This is how I did it:

I imagined my life as huge layer cake with too many dense layers to count. The layers themselves never had distinctive flavors. They were simply made up of different parts of my life, including what I do on a daily basis; the getting up, going to work, and then to bed kind of things, that go on day after day, like paying the bills, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and putting up with the dog across the street that barks all night.

In between each layer I hid the nitty-gritty stuff; my raw emotions, unhappiness, anger, losses, my victimhood, shame, boredom, laziness, fear, depression, and lack of hope. But mixed in with all that bitterness were tiny bits of something rather pleasing that I couldn’t identify. It was like a distant voice telling me to wake up and smell the roses. On occasion it sang to me and presented me with visions of huge bouquets of freshly picked tulips and daffodils.

Tired of that same old, same old, wanting to hear more music, and be given magnificent bouquets of flowers, I set out to bake a new cake for myself. I wanted the layers to be lighter and flavorful. Almond, dark chocolate, honey, or vanilla were just a few possibilities. I imagined it’s butter cream frosting sprinkled with red and pink rose pedals, and dusted with finely shredded coconut. In between the layers I envisioned things like fresh strawberries, chocolate ganache, marzipan, pineapple, and a host of other delicacies that would make life sweeter and a happier place to be.

The first thing I did was sit down outside in the sun and allow myself to stare into space. I tried to envision where I could find some of the necessary ingredients for this new cake. Instead, I found my eyes closing as I listened to a light breeze whispering through the pines. A mockingbird called out, trying out its own version of meowing as it flitted through the yard, teasing Lilli, the cat. I dozed off and woke feeling deliciously peaceful.

After several days of returning to the same spot, hoping to discover the place where I could find those seemingly unattainable ingredients, I realized I had found the most important one. By allowing myself to relax, empty my mind, and feel the warmth of the sun all over my body, I felt calmer, and happier. Over time, I found I could repeat the experience, even stuck inside on cold, rainy, or snowy days. The burdens I’d been carrying grew lighter.

Instead of feeling constantly rushed by what I thought I needed to be doing, I took to saying, “NO,” when asked to do things that overwhelmed me. I refused to be rushed into making snap decisions, or driving like a maniac to get to the theatre, movies, or appointments on time. It was hard. Everyone around me was on speed. Used to taking care of everyone else’s wishes but my own, I often slipped backwards into old patterns, feeling further abused. I blamed my slip ups on everyone else, while kicking myself in the butt for being stupid. But with practice, it got better.

I instead of filling my journal with rants about life and a litany of mundane things I’d done each day, I began adding notes about things I was grateful for, including those wonderful “light bulb moments,” that suddenly began appearing on a regular basis. From there I started several blogs where I published poems I’d written, and longer pieces about the natural world.

When the idea of writing a book came to me, this current blog, was my starting point. I posted family stories here and as the idea of writing a memoir became real, it’s where I continuesharing my stories and exploring my journey as I continue to heal.

Through writing about one small part of my life in, Me, Myself, and Mom, I see my life and those within it through new eyes. It’s all been sitting in the stock pot on the back burner of the stove, taking its sweet old time. And after a very long bake, is the best cake I’ve ever baked. It too has taken time. There is no instant gratification doing it my way, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been before. And life is sweet enough that I’ve given up sugar and gluten as another way to stay healthy.

Is your life boiling away into thin air, or is it on the back burner, smiling as it slowly cooks?

There’s No Place Like Home

Bryant Park

Bryant Park

I’m just back from New York City, where Bill and I spent five days taking a break from the “same old, same old.”  It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Bill, especially. His computer crashed with the play he’d been revising for an upcoming spring staged reading here in Charlottesville and another reading in New York City in May at the Dramatist Guild.  There is, however, a new computer in the works and the techies who are transfering data to the new robotic brain believe that the script and other files of value came through without a hitch.  We’ll know for sure tomorrow.

I’ve not been to the city this close to Christmas since I was a little kid, living on Long Island.  On several occasions my dad took my brothers and me into the city to shop at Macy’s for Christmas gifts.  I remember it as lots of fun.  My brothers sat on Santa’s lap, while I checked out the latest lipstick shades, picking one I thought would look good on my mother.  We ate lots of chocolate and candy canes, while we looked for those special trinkets we’d wrap and put under the tree, emptying the piggy banks that we’d stuffed all year long with allowances.

Shop Window at Rockefeller Center

Shop Window at Rockefeller Center

After this trip I’ve promised myself I won’t return again this close to Christmas and Hanukkah.  The Streets and sidewalks were jammed with shoppers and tourists from all over the world.  New York is an international city where languages from around the world can be heard, especially at this time of year. I was overwhelmed by the walls of people heading in my direction. Listening carefully, I realized I was not alone with my panic. As we passed one vacant doorway, I overheard a man telling his wife that they would just stay put until there was a break in the crowd.  A while later, a young woman rushed by, pulling her boyfriend along, who was pleading, “Please get me out of here.  I can’t do this.”

We saw three broadway shows, two of which I thought were good, but still nothing that inspired me.  We also took in three movies, the best of which was, St. Vincent, with Bill Murray, which was delightful and whose main character I could relate to.  We also saw, Citizenfour and Whiplash. Though both are great movies and award material, their serious nature left me feeling a bit raw.

The Tree at Bryant Park

The Tree at Bryant Park

We also went to the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan where we took a 90 minute tour of one of the buildings the museum has redone, where I got a glimpse into what living arrangements were probably like for my grandparents, who came to the States from Poland in the early 1900’s. I look forward to going back some day to do the museum’s food tasting tour which sounds quite yummy.

I was whisked away into the whirl wind of city life, but am so happy to be home again. When our train pulled into Charlottesville on our return, we both joyfully realized that going away is what one needs in order to understand that coming home to the “same old, same old,” is where we really want to be.

Giving Thanks

IMG_1251“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

– John F. Kennedy

This is what it looked like Saturday on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Bill and I were there for a three day retreat. I wrote for two days without interruption, visited a few family members, walked on the beach, and enjoyed the quiet peace of the shore when only a few other people are around. It was blissful and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be there.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and that your lives will be filled with simplicity and the grace of gratitude.