Lucky 7 — Celebrating the WordSisters’ 7th Anniversary

In 2012, when Elizabeth and I launched WordSisters, we weren’t sure where this adventure would take us or if we could keep up the discipline (and pleasure) of blogging regularly. But here we are—still blogging!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia, Brenda, Jill, and Jean. We’ve made friends and added followers from all over the U.S. and the world.

I believe one of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a selection of popular posts:

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers) I made choices that supported the life I wanted; my decisions did not advance a traditional career path.

Until It Becomes Personal  Until it becomes personal it is somewhere else, someplace else, somebody’s else’ kid.

I’m (Not) Sorry I have set a big goal for myself: to stop saying “I’m sorry.”

Time Runs Out We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months when he had shared with us that he experienced a couple of mysterious health incidents.

No Merit Badge for This “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

God Bless Middle-aged Daughters We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen.

Opposing Thumbs As I sat in Miss Bloom’s typing class, I never thought that one day I’d be typing primarily with my thumbs.

Comfortable on Any Turf In memory of Lisa, whose writing group—Ellen, Elizabeth, Rose, Jill, Brenda, and I—were WordSisters well before Ellen and Elizabeth began this blog.

Thank you for being our readers over the years. You’re the reason we’re here.

 

Advertisements

How A Bullet Journal Helps Ease My Anxiety

I started keeping a (modified) bullet journal in January 2017, and I’ve recorded almost every day since. Not that I’ve written every day, but I’ve almost always gone back and recreated days I miss.

My journal is more diary than journal, recording events, how I’ve slept, what we ate, where we’ve traveled, things to do. I’ve occasionally written longer forms (this post started as handwritten pages in my bullet journal), but not often.

Lately, I’ve discovered that my notebook contributes greatly to managing my anxiety. On a recent Saturday I was feeling anxious and blue, more than I had in a while. It had been an emotional week. I’d seen my Uncle Don for the first time in years. I’d visited my 90-year-old mother in Michigan and found it difficult to leave her to return home. My husband’s sister was in the hospital with a life-threatening health crisis.

With all of the travel and activity, I hadn’t written in my journal. Sunday morning I made time to catch up on my entries for the week. As I wrote, I could feel the anxiety melting away. Nothing had changed, but the act of documenting my days seemed to be the panacea for my disquiet.

journal with micron penI realized that writing down these events ensures that I’ll have a record of them, that I won’t forget. But my journal also is a container for the challenging events in my life. I can close my journal, snap the elastic band around the cover and my emotions are safe, caught within the margins.

I spend a fair amount of time going back and reading what I’ve written in my notebook. Although mostly mundane, these entries serve a valuable purpose. They fill the gaps in my memory. They remind me of all of the wonderful people I have in my life. They show me that I’m resilient and can make it through any trials life throws me.

Unlike other journals I’ve kept, my bullet journal provides structure and order, two things I crave in my life. I often joke that I have “control issues.” But it’s not really a joke. I need to feel that I can have some control or influence over everything in my life. When I don’t, I get anxious. In a small way my bullet journal gives me that control. If I can put the words on paper, I can get them out of the endless worry loop playing in my head. I know I can always go back to my journal if I need to.

Another thing I love about my bullet journal is that there are no rules. (That seems a little contradictory to the previous paragraph, doesn’t it?) I can use it however I want. I control the contents. (Ah, there it is.) I can put a calendar on a page if I want one there, I’m not confined to the page with the pre-imposed date.

I’ve always loved calendars, but I can’t even count how many planners/diaries I’ve abandoned in my life because I’ve missed days or weeks and can’t tolerate the taunting of all those blank pages. This notebook is the perfect solution. Every page is full of ideas, events, thoughts, emotions, and yes, a calendar if I want one.

My favorite pages in my notebook are probably my version of the Calendex. I create small calendars across the top of the page using the grid, with a blank column beneath. Throughout the month I document the highlights (dinners out, parties, major purchases or repairs, writing groups attended and missed). At a glance I can recreate a week or month. I can then go to the date in my journal for the details.

Calendex

(Note for BUJO purists: I don’t use my Calendex for future planning. Eddy Hope explains how he created this concept in case you’re curious.)

I’ve learned that I prefer a “dot” notebook with a light grid on the page (Luechtturm1917 is my current favorite brand). I keep a ruler in my notebook and use my favorite pens (Micron-black) to draw lines to section off the page and create calendars and lists. (Lists! How I love a good list.) But I always write in pencil, I like to be able to make changes.

Recently I’ve decided that I want my journal to be more than just an accounting of days. So I’ve started adding sections periodically for “mood” and “observations.” I’m trying to be a little more thoughtful each day and use my notebook for inspiration and creativity. I usually journal early in the morning, when the house is quiet and I’m calm. I realize that it’s probably this time that I gift myself for quiet reflection that contributes most to my emotional state.

My bullet journal is the talisman that allows me to bring together the things that matter most to me – creativity, structure, order, inspiration – to live together in one place. The blank pages aren’t daunting. They’re beautiful and calm, waiting for me to use them.

 

The Real Reward

I help teach English to adult immigrants. Recently, the teacher I work with asked what kind of gift card I’d prefer as a thank you gift for volunteering. I didn’t want to make a fuss—I know the gift card is well-intentioned—so I chose one. But the truthful answer was that I didn’t want a reward.

What’s weird is that if I were a volunteer coordinator, I would think it was very important to acknowledge and thank volunteers. Finding a suitable way to please a disparate group would be hard. I would probably land on gift cards, too. I’m not criticizing the gift options or the school’s impulse to thank me.

I think my discomfort has more to do with how I was raised. My parents set an example with their many volunteer activities—they did far more than I ever do. Their outlook was that you’re supposed to pitch in and help. It’s just what you do.

Another value that my parents conveyed was that it’s even better if you donate your time or money without any public acknowledgement. For years, they were secret angel donors for the parish grade school and the church choir. If kids didn’t have money for supplies or a field trip, or if the choir needed more funds for a tour, the principal and the choir director knew my parents would cover it. Hardly anybody knew my parents did this. My father mentioned it to me once, and the scope of their contributions only came to light when they died.

What I had trouble putting into words when asked about the gift card is that volunteering is as much about my needs as it is about theirs. The world at large can be dismissive of people who are 60 and beyond—assuming that we’re clueless, set in our ways, etc., etc. Volunteering is a way of reminding myself that I’m knowledgeable and have something valuable to contribute. I feel seen, useful, and appreciated. That’s what makes volunteering worthwhile.

I don’t think I deserve a medal (or a gift card) for putting in a few spare hours a week. Corny as it sounds, acknowledgement comes every week in the form of students who make a point to thank me at the end of class. Also gratifying are the students who return after completing the class to share their excitement about landing a better job—one requiring good English skills. Plus, the teacher often asks my opinion about her proposed lesson plans and always thanks me for coming. That’s good. That’s plenty.

A Home for Everybody

In Door County, Wisconsin privilege, middle income and poverty share zip codes. Average annual income across the area is artificially inflated by a significant population of retired individuals, many with healthy pensions. Average annual median income is under $40,000 reflective of an economy dependent on tourism and agriculture. Thirty to forty percent of school kids  are eligible for free breakfast even with many parents reluctant to apply.Poverty may not be obvious like in disadvantaged city neighborhoods, but signs in gas stations offering free gift cards to those who can’t afford travel for doctor appointments tells the story.

I grew up in Door County’s neighboring county in a skinny old house on Main Street in one of those farming communities. My father had a good job, my mother worked seasonally. Our grade school didn’t charge for hot lunch. That tells the same story.

Affordable housing is a pressing issue. On an average annual median income of $40,000 minus expenses like healthcare or a car payment, ideal rent is $600. Traditional calculations for how much house a $40,000 income covers suggests less than $100,000. Good luck finding either of those. Homelessness is not visible, but people do live in buildings never meant to be housing, in trailers without water or power, in crowded apartments with too many roommates, or rotate through campgrounds from May through October.

At an informational meeting one township presented purchasing a land tract for about $2 million with intention to develop part into affordable housing. In the packed room emotion and fact clashed. A housing builder wanted first dibs on the space promising $340,000 “affordable” units. Neighbors shared what they were promised about the vacant land when they purchased their homes. More than one person asked why affordable housing was taxpayers’ responsibility.

A social worker and a skilled craftsperson spoke of their inability to find places to live or house their families. One thirty-something white collar professional said he has lived in thirteen places in about ten years, most of them crap holes. His employer often loses employees after they spend months looking for any kind of apartment. He reminded everyone that affordable housing does not only mean home ownership, but also decent apartments. There are jobs to be filled here, but not places to live. Business owners are nervous about being able to keep their doors open.

Privilege, middle-class, and poverty share this zip code. No telling who in the blue jeans and t-shirt crowd shared a two bedroom former cottage with five or more people, commuted one hundred fifty miles daily, or lived alone in 3,000 square feet. Dictionary.com defines community as a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage. If this township, rooted in European ancestry, cannot accept responsibility for the need to house its members, what is its future?

For someone whose primary home is in a city with homeless individuals living in tent villages, sleeping on mass transit, or huddled in too few shelters, this feels like a no brainer. Taxes support communities, communities are made of members residing in a specific locality, localities require teachers, shop owners, EMTs, shop workers, builders, children to have a future. And all those people need healthy places to live. This is why we live in community.

Blog May 2019

 

 

 

The Nature of Mother’s Day Gifts

Gifts I wrapped never looked this good–LOL!

This time of year, I recall standing in Herberger’s, a store that no longer exists, searching the clothes racks for something that would delight Mom. If I were on a roll, I’d buy several outfits and relieve my sister and one of my brothers of their anxious search (my other brother usually had his own plan). Not that Mom was so hard to delight, but more that we were striving so hard to convey a love that was too big to be contained by a gift.

My system was to try on the clothes in my size (several sizes larger than what Mom wore.) We had the same build, and if the clothes fit me, I’d buy them in her size and mail them (life before Amazon was a reflex). If they didn’t suit her, she could return them to Elder Beerman, the Ohio branch of Herberger’s.

I was curiously detached about the possibility of the clothes being returned. I’d tried my best and I knew that even if my gift didn’t work out, Mom saw the effort and recognized the love. She’d done the same anxious ritual for her mother and mother-in-law for years, too.

Mom has been gone nearly five years, a fact I still can hardly believe sometimes. When my sons ask me what gift I’d like, I often have no suggestions (none of us thinks purchasing clothes is realistic!) I suggest outings and time spent together, and that suits us. The real gift is that they care enough to ask, that they want to show their love.

Message received.