Starting Over

Frog Yogi looks after me in my studio.

Frog Yogi looks after me in my studio.

I rarely get as much exercise in the summer as I do in the winter. This summer was no exception. WhenVirginia dog days set in and the temperatures and humidity rise, I get lazy. And even though I have a vintage cross-trainer in my studio along with air conditioning, I regularly avoid movement as much as possible. Of course, it could have something to do with aging, but still the longer I go without taking a good long walk or spend at least 30 minutes on my machine and another 30 minutes stretching, the more my body aches. My joints continue to stiffen as I promise that tomorrow I will get on the cross-trainer. But even crossing my heart and hoping to die, doesn’t change a thing. Even doing it once or twice a week during a heat wave, and feeling better for it, doesn’t change my attitude. I keep telling myself that I’ll do it tomorrow along with the million and half other things I’ve been promising to do. Hah! Sure!

I walk Sam and Max early every morning before I have breakfast and though it isn’t more than a ten or fifteen minute walk around the block with stops at every interesting smelling shrub, it helps me wake up. Later if I walk by myself and get some speed going or get on that gadget that takes up too much room in my studio, I do feel great. And for those like me who hold tension and anxiety in their bodies, movement helps me relax. I think of walking as my morning meditation. There is nothing but me moving. If I get sidetracked I simply go back to my breath and the one-two-three pattern of walking that helps to keep me physically balanced.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been kicking myself in the butt most days because I haven’t been keeping my promises to myself. I still do Pilates on Monday afternoon and Yoga on Friday morning, but the solo, out-of-breath work went down the tubes.

When the Olympics started two weeks ago, I was delighted spending my evenings being inspired by all of the athletes. I was especially moved by those who didn’t win, knew they wouldn’t, but did it anyway. Just like them, in my dreams I flew through the air,  twisted around, and landed perfectly upright on my feet.  I swam fast,  as though a shark was after me,  and dove into the pool, as gracefully as a any diving bird. I thought about all of the work it took to train and the passion one must have in order to participate in such an event.

My inner critic piped up every now and then to say, “Hey what’s wrong with you? You’re just a rotten couch potato.” Then pointing her finger at me, she’d say, “Well you are getting old. It’s time to quit that exercise stuff. It’s a waste of time. I’m sure that rocking chair in the window down at the furniture store is looking pretty good to you, huh?”

All I need is a challenge. So I’ve started over. It’s still mighty hot. The air is hazy and humid. But I’ve worked out on my cross trainer every day this past week. Yesterday a cold front came through. The morning was deliciously cool. I took  a good long walk in the morning chill and finished the day with my Pilates session.  No more excuses like I don’t have time, so I’ll do it tomorrow. I don’t need or want a medal. All I want and need is for my mind and body to feel good and the time to take care of myself. I suppose there may come a day when I can no longer walk, so as long as I can, I will.

Life is all about starting over again. Each morning we wake up to a new day and have an opportunity to keep the promises we made to ourselves. There will be days when we really don’t have time to do what we said we would do. There will be days when good or bad things happen and it just isn’t possible to cross things off our to-do lists. The point is that every moment, every hour, every day, we have the chance to  start over.

My use of sugar has been rising and as a sugar addict, I’m only hurting myself and possibly bringing on something that will cause other problems. So that will be my next restart. No more kicking myself in the butt.  I may slip once in a while but I will keep in mind I can start over again at any time!

What are you starting over?

Look for me tomorrow over at Dorothy Sander’s Voices of Wisdom series.

On Friday you will find me over at The Care Giver Space, where they are featuring an excerpt from my memoir, SCATTERING ASHES,
A Memoir of Letting Go.

Finding A Calling And Seeing It Through

” A calling is what you have when you look back at your life and make sense of what it’s been trying to teach you …”    Geoff Goines


IMG_0013I am called to put my thoughts down on paper every day.  But it’s not always easy. Sometimes life gets in the way, leaving little time to focus and keep myself inspired. Other times my inner critic sounds off, telling me that what I’ve just written is crap and I ought to find something else to do with my life.

In the process of writing my memoir there were a number of times I almost quit altogether. It was difficult, intense work and I often didn’t want to face or write about some of the grimmest days of my life. Yet I wanted to share my story as a way to help others who were considering being caretakers to their parents. With the help of a writing coach and encouragement from other writers, I kept going and finished it. In mid-September my book will be a reality and the dream I had of bringing it into the world will be accomplished.

These days when it’s hard to fit writing time into my overloaded schedule or I simply don’t feel like sitting down in front of my computer and getting to work, I think of two individuals I recently met who work day jobs, write at the same time, and feel that what they are doing will bring them to a more satisfying place in there lives. They have their own dreams. They also have the courage and hutzpah to keep at it without knowing whether or not their dreams will become reality.

I met the first one, a cab driver, in May during my visit to Chicago. When I hopped into his cab in front of the hotel I was staying in, he immediately asked if I was going to the airport. He sounded somewhat disappointed when I told him I needed to go to McCormick Place, the city’s huge convention center only a twenty minute ride away. He knew that Book Expo America was going on there, and asked if I was a writer. When I said yes, he said that he too is a writer and began telling me a little bit about the book he is working on. When I asked him how he found time to write, he told me that when he can take passengers to the airport and drops them off, he goes to the end of the taxi line and waits for his next fare. It could sometimes be up to an hour of uninterrupted time. That is when he pulls out his notebook and begins work on his book, a philosophical self-help treatise filled with ways to live a happy life directed at young people. I was impressed and inspired by this gray-haired, African-American man, originally from the Sudan, who needs to work, but also has dreams of publishing his book. I was especially impressed that he called himself a writer, when many of us don’t, unless we’ve officially published a book. As he did twenty years ago when he decided to come to America for a better life, he has taken action in an effort to bring his calling to fruition.

The second writer, a stewardess on a recent flight I was on is also working toward putting a book together. She was at the end of an exhausting four day stint up and down the east coast taking care of and serving passengers. She was anxious to get home where she would have the next five days off to clean house, shop, and do laundry. As I listened to her story of what she and the rest of the flight crew had been through during the past few days, I felt glad that I had never considered that line of work. I thought back to the times I watched myself and other passengers take out our frustrations on flight crew members because we had been delayed and would miss our next connections. This flight was no exception, since we were an hour late getting off the ground.

Once in the air and after the passengers had been served, she sat down and pulled out a red spiral bound notebook. She closed her eyes for a moment and then began writing. She wrote for about twenty minutes before she tucked the notebook back into her bag in order to get us ready to land. Once on the ground as we waited for the doors to open, I asked her if she was a writer. “Yes,” she responded with a smile and told me she had three notebooks filled with stories that she hoped one day would become a book. And,”Yes,” many of them had been written during those fleeting moments when she was on the job. I didn’t have time to ask her any more questions before I left the plane, but I was impressed by the way she was moving forward to hopefully bring her dream to reality.

I just finished reading, The Art of Work, A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do, by Jeff Goins. The cab driver and the stewardess could have stepped out of the pages of this inspiring book which explores the ideas of calling, vocation, and the challenges we all face as we search for a way to live a more purposeful and authentic life.

The description on the back cover of this book states: “Life seldom unfolds the way we hope or plan. The twists, surprises, and setbacks leave us feeling stuck with no option left but to play it safe—to conform to what’s expected of us. But what if theres was more to life than this?”

When we are called to plant a garden how can we make it flourish?

Read my newest newsletter which will appear on  August 1st.  To have it directly delivered to your mailbox subscribe to it in the box above on the right.

Insight Dialogue And What Is Most Important To Us

 Lotus © Joan Z. Rough

Lotus © Joan Z. Rough

This past Saturday I returned to the annual, Insight Dialogue Retreat, that one of my favorite people and teachers, Sharon Beckman-Brindley, teaches here in Charlottesville, as an offering of the Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville.

These retreats have been scheduled every January for the past several years, and it’s a magical way to start the New Year. By the end of the day, one participant wanted to know, why we all had to go home. “Couldn’t we just keep going?” My feelings exactly, except I really did need a break to go home, eat dinner, and have a good night’s sleep. But had the retreat been scheduled to continue on Sunday, I would have been there in a heart beat.

Insight Dialogue, is the practice of working with a partner to whom we speak and listen to, as we contemplate a series of questions on a given theme. This year’s theme was about intentions and what is important to us as we navigate through our lives. As we slowly walked around the room, we were stopped by the instructor and told to engage a partner for the first contemplation, find seats across from each other, and decide who would be the first speaker.

Our first contemplation was, “What are the intentions you wish to carry with you throughout your life?” We were all encouraged to relax and pause if the speaker needed time to pull his or her thoughts together, or the listener needed time to banish intrusive thoughts. Each pause provided stillness in which new thoughts and insights arose and could be added to the conversation.

The speakers were then directed to talk about a difficulty in their lives and how they might use their intentions to make the situation less difficult. Other questions followed, with the speaker addressing what was true for them, always pausing to reflect on new insights.  The listener then had a chance to respond to the speaker and  talk about how the speaker’s words affected them.

Exchanging roles from speaker to listener and listener to speaker, the process began again, with the new speaker answering the same or similar questions. We were continuously reminded to relax, pause, close our eyes, and take a deep breath when necessary.

Except for the time that dialogue was taking place, we spent the rest of our time in silence, even during breaks and while having lunch, allowing more time for us to continue our own contemplations of our intentions.

Continuing on into the afternoon, additional questions with new partners were contemplated, each taking a turn at addressing the questions being asked. By the end of the afternoon we had each shared contemplations with three other people.

It’s always an amazing and cleansing activity for me, as I dig deep to find my truth, and practice being an intent listener. It becomes very clear that insights arise during our brief pauses, when we are in the moment.

The first time I went to one of these retreats, I had no idea what to expect and was very nervous about speaking so openly and intimately about myself and my inner world. But it’s become a yearly ritual for me and each time I come away with new insights about myself and inspiration from those I sit and speak with.  Often long lasting friendships are forged.

This time around I discovered that I’ve always kept the good things I feel about myself under wraps. Saturday afternoon, while discussing the good things that we do as we move through our lives, I realized, I’d been taught as a young girl that it was incorrect to talk about my goodness. Good little girls were not supposed to speak about how nice we were. It was a form of bragging and always seemed to bring on the same response to the silly questions I often asked … silence.

As a result, I was led to believe that the good things I did were unimportant. Only the bad things, like doing something stupid, talking back to my parents, or disobeying them, counted in any description of who I was at the time, both in my mother and father’s minds, as well as my own.

I also learned that I’d already used one of my intentions for this new year. I DARED to post a somewhat controversial, political essay last week here on my blog. I don’t normally like to do that. I like to be positive at all times, and dislike confrontation and disagreement. I’d learned early on to keep my mouth shut about things like that. Although no one needs to agree with what I wrote, I’m rather proud of myself for standing up and speaking out about an issue that was of great concern to me.

Setting intentions for a day, a year, or a lifetime are always good things to do.  If you have intentions for the next ten minutes, this coming year, or for the rest of your life, what are they and how do see yourself manifesting them?

The Work In Progress Blog Tour

Grackel visiting me last week on my writing retreat.

Grackle visiting me last week on my writing retreat.

Friend and fellow memoirist, Kathy Pooler,  has been one of my biggest supporters through the trials and tribulations of writing my memoir. She was one of my beta readers, and asked me to write a guest post for her blog as well. Everything she has said about my writing has inspired me to continue. Last week she tagged me for The Work In Progress Blog Tour, and once again I am honored and grateful for her unending encouragement.

Both Kathy and I have suffered from abuse and have used writing as a way to heal and grow beyond our victimhood into whole, authentic women, interested in passing on what we have learned to others who may need inspiration as they navigate through difficult times. Kathy’s book, Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published this past summer, tells her story of escaping domestic abuse inflicted by two former husbands and her climb back to wholeness and a rewarding new life.

My book, ME MYSELF AND MOM, A Journey Through Love, Hate And Healing, which I’m still working on, is the story of becoming my mother’s caretaker, during her last years of life. She was one of my abusers when I was a child and took up her old role again when I invited her into my home as her health began to fail. It’s been a tough story to tell, but the forgiveness that I have found for her and myself as I’ve written about our relationship has been life changing, allowing me to let go of the cloak of victimhood I’ve worn most of my life. Below is a brief synopsis:

As Mom’s health begins to fail, I invite her to move in with my husband and me. As I attempt to be her caretaker and make life easier for her, we struggle with our own grief and pain while trying to maintain our individual independence and privacy. Repressed memories of abuse from my childhood rise to the surface. My deep longing to bring us together crumbles as she nears death and becomes impossible to deal with. When she dies I am left with feelings of deep bitterness and a bag of her ashes. Five years and four different “Letting-Go” rituals later, I find forgiveness for her and myself, while picking up the broken pieces of my life. This story of my healing process, is for adult children left with emptiness from investing themselves in a loving yet hateful relationship with an aging parent and the challenge of renewal when their loved one is gone. It’s loaded with themes of love, guilt, condemnation, heroism, hatred, dedication, perseverance, loneliness, regrets, PTSD, substance abuse, and forgiveness.

Besides linking back to the person who tagged me for this blog tour, I’ve been asked to include the first sentences from the first three chapters of my book, and then to nominate other writers who are in the midst of new projects.


Chapter I:  Mourning Dove,   May 21, 2007

It’s a beautiful May morning. The grass is heavy with dew and the air is filled with an early morning concert sung by a choir of returning birds. They’ll soon build nests in neighboring shrubs and trees where they’ll raise their young, then head south again in the fall completing another yearly cycle. As I turn the corner into my driveway, a mourning dove feeding on the ground takes flight. There is a light bump as it collides with the hood of my car. With wings outspread, I watch it rise straight up, surrounded in a veil of white light. When it vanishes into thin air I know something has changed. It is a clear message that my mother has died.


Chapter II:  The Beginning of the End,   August, 2000

When friend and real estate broker, Pat, calls to ask if he can show us a house that’s been on the market for a year, I’m not terribly excited. “But, the price has been lowered dramatically and I know you’ll love the location.” He tells me the house is in a subdivision of eight homes, and fronts on the South Fork Rivanna River Reservoir. I imagine the price will be way over what we’re willing to spend. But one can look … hope … and dream.

Chapter III:  Living In A Construction Zone,  July 2001

As sawdust piles up, and old walls are torn down, the scene in front of me is all too familiar.  I’m reminded of the feelings of impermanence that haunted my childhood as my family traveled like gypsies from one home to another.


I know that this is a ridiculously busy time of year, but I’m tagging the following  writer/bloggers as a way to inspire them to continue to work on their new projects. If Kathy hadn’t already been tagged, she would be on this list, as well. She is beginning work on a new memoir.

Saloma Furlong, is the author of two memoirs: Why I Left The Amish and Bonnet Strings, An Amish Woman’s Ties To Two Worlds. She is at work on another as she explores her relationship with her mother.

Valery Rind, is the author of the just released, Gold Diggers And Deadbeat Dads, a must read about how to keep from falling for family and friend’s finacial woes and schemes. I know she will be writing more on this subject.

July Lee Dunn,  is at work getting her book She’s Out Late, a mother-daughter memoir, published.

Expert Or Storyteller?


In much of the reading I do to stay tuned in on how to have a lot of followers on my blog and build a following for my upcoming memoir, it is said that you need to be an expert on what you are writing about.

My Scrivener dictionary describes an expert as someone who is, “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area: experts in child development | a financial expert.”

In order to be an expert, you have to know about something a lot of other people don’t know about and need or want instruction in. Like how to train your dog so that he or she won’t attack the mailman, or how to make a loaf of sour dough bread that tastes heavenly.

In Australian Locker Hooking, A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, the first book I wrote and published back in 1980, I was definitely taking on the role of an expert. My book was an instruction manual with photographs and technical drawings on how to use raw wool that has been freshly shorn to make beautiful hand made rugs. I was an authority. Those who bought my book wanted to know how to make the things I made, often from the wool of their own sheep.

Now I’m writing a memoir.  ME, MYSELF AND MOM, a Journey Through Love, Hate and Healing, is about a portion of my life, during which I invited my mother to come live with my husband and me. Her health was failing, and she needed care. I was not an expert on eldercare when I invited her into my home, and when she died seven years later, I was still not an expert on eldercare.

Seven more years have passed, and I still don’t feel as though I am an ”expert” on eldercare, or how to build a relationship with an aging parent. If you read my book and try to follow what I did in order deal with your aging parent, you could be making many BIG mistakes and end up hating me for sending you in the wrong direction. What works for one person, most often doesn’t work for another.

In my mind, writing memoir is rather like being a scribe or a storyteller. It’s a record of what happened from the writer’s perspective.  It is not necessarily a how-to-book.

When I read memoir, my favorite genre, I am interested in being told a story and being inspired by how a particular person managed to get through a certain period of time in their lives. I am not interested in learning the steps they took to arrive where they are today. What I want, is to know is that I am not alone in my happiness or travails.

Making difficult decisions about how to care for aging parents is something many of us will face, as we ourselves grow older. As I continue to rewrite my memoir, my intention is to inspire adult children who may be taking on that tricky journey, while they try to go about living their own lives. It’s a difficult task.

Mine is the story of why and how I tried to care for my mother. As hard as it was,  I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and human nature.

Are you an expert or a storyteller? How do you feel about being one or the other?