Saturday, May 31, 2014

CNN interview: OCD and religion

Nearly two weeks ago, Elizabeth Landau, a writer and producer for CNN's website, contacted me about an article she was writing about scrupulosity. She had found me via this blog.

She interviewed me by phone about my experiences with religious scrupulosity. I talked to her about the ways my fears of sin affected me, especially as a teenager and young adult.

Landau’s article was published today. You can read it HERE. It’s informative and paints a good picture about how this form of OCD can affect people of any religion or no religion. And it gives hope for those who suffer with this form of OCD, including a section on the use of exposure therapy.

If you do read the article, I ask that you share it on other social media such as Facebook or Twitter, or send links to friends who might benefit. Or you can share this blog post in the same way.

It is my hope that this article will help spread the word and help people feel less alone.

Some background
I went to an evangelical Christian school for high school, and the calls to be “saved” were traumatic for me because I could never be sure if I had said the prayer “right,” or if my heart was “right” with God.

I believed that I had to say all my prayers perfectly or harm would come to my family and it would be my fault. I prayed silently, incessantly, repeating myself over and over. If I made a mistake in my ritual, I had to start over.

I turned away from any hint of God or religion for years because of my experiences with scrupulosity.
I’m in a much better place now, living better with the uncertainty of faith, believing that there are many paths to God for people to choose from, or not.

You can read more about my religious OCD on this blog HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Random memories and thoughts

See the two red spots? Those are cardinals. That is about the best I can do with bird photos.

I was sad to learn of the passing of Maya Angelou on Wednesday. I admired her a great deal.
In thinking about her, I got out my copy of her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she wrote for and read at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in January 1993.
I was teaching English at the time. I videotaped her reading and used it in class to aid in discussing the poem with my students.
Here’s a lovely part of that poem:

"Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I, the River, I, the Tree
I am yours--your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again."

From "On the Pulse of Morning," by Maya Angelou


It has been rainy and stormy off and on this week. I hope Larry and I will be able to be out and about a bit today.
I also need to check in more with my garden and see if there’s anything ready to eat!


I love my times of sitting quietly, listening to my breath and to the sounds around me. Sometimes I get uncomfortable—physically uncomfortable, bored, distracted. But in the end, I feel better after even a 10-minute meditation. It helps with intrusive thoughts and makes me feel less anxious.


I started updating my blog information since I’m gaining a year today (I am turning 51 today). I decided to leave my age off the About Me section. I’m not ashamed of it, but I don’t think that’s the first thing people are interested in knowing.
I found that I needed to update other pages, too, including the page about my cats. It hurt to have to change it to reflect that Larry and I don’t have two cats anymore. The last time I updated that page, Sam was still with us. I miss her, and all my babies, so much.


I’ve been thinking about my life (yes, I’m a thinker). I know it is in part due to my birthday. I suppose getting older makes many of us think about the past and wonder about the future.
Some of what I’ve been pondering is what I really want to say with my writing. I love to write and, I say with gratefulness, I can write well enough, though there’s plenty of room for improvement. But what do I want to say? What do I want to say?


And where in the world did May go?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mid-week thoughts during vacation

I am hitting the middle part of my week off from the newspaper, but I’m trying not to focus on it. Vacation weeks always fly by, don’t they?
It was really nice on Tuesday not to be laying out pages and reviewing copy at the newspaper. I like my job, but it’s nice to get a respite now and then from a day that is usually very stressful.

I’ve been doing some editing work. I enjoy the editing process so much, and it’s nice working from home.

I’ve also been reading. I just finished Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.
Have you read it? What did you think?
I found it fascinating, frightening, troubling. It’s incredibly well- written, and I really didn’t want to put the book down.
But boy, the story itself is disturbing. I hope I never meet people like the main characters, Nick and Amy. Or if I’ve already met them, I hope I don’t learn anymore about them.
If I dream about the characters, which I sometimes do after I read a book, the dreams will actually be nightmares.
Yes, that disturbing. If a book can make me feel that way about the characters, I think the writer has done a good job.

On that note, here are a couple more photos to lift myself out of Nick and Amy’s world:

Have you ever read a book that, while it was excellent, had disturbing characters that stayed in your mind after you finished the book?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

My father.

The above photo is of my father, a veteran of World War II. He served in the Army as a medic and left the service in 1945 as a staff sergeant. He served in the Pacific Theatre.
Daddy was forever grateful for being one who was able to come home from war. He never forgot those who did not come home. He told me that on Memorial Day 1996, a little over a year before he died.

Larry and I watched the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS Sunday night. It has become a ritual for us to watch it.
This year there was a special section commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
One of the 12 men on stage for the commemoration was a local man, Jack Shields of Altavista.

Thank you to all those who served their country in the military and to those who made the highest sacrifice, with their lives.

I pray for the day when there will be no more war.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Barbour Salad Bar

Last weekend, Larry and I went to a nearby greenhouse and bought tomato plants and pepper plants. We chose Better Boy and Roma tomatoes and jalapenos and a red and green pepper variety.
Larry went to another greenhouse Monday and bought Beefsteak tomatoes to add.

Tomato plants, with the cucumbers at the left end. You can see the watering pipes laid out.

Pepper plants.
I love the lettuce section.

Our garden is practically full now. We may plant something else in the open areas.
But about those open areas—Larry is now building boxes to put around those areas to try to keep out the critter that has been eating the radishes. We’re pretty sure it’s a groundhog, though we haven’t actually seen him in the garden, just in the yard.
So far, he or she hasn’t touched the onions or the peppers. I thought I would just pull up the radishes—they didn’t develop because I had them planted too close together. But I’m leaving them for the critter since he or she seems to like them. And maybe they will keep the critter away from the other plants.

One of the valves in the watering system.

Larry is also working on a watering system for the garden. It really wasn’t much of a chore to drag the hose out to the garden to water. But Larry likes to design and build things, so he tried his hand at this. I said, go for it. It’s fun for him to experiment, and it’s fun for me to see him have fun.

The Barbour Salad Bar.

I look at the garden and think: that’s a great salad bar.

In other news, it is finally vacation time. I am taking next week off from my newspaper job. I have some editing work to do, but I’ll be working at home and will still have time for some relaxation.
My birthday is also next week, so Larry bought me some books early. I have some Harlan Coben to try (I’ve never read any of his books), a C.J. Lyons book (another new author for me, and some John Sandford (love his books!) to enjoy. I get so excited about new books to read!
I will be so glad to have some time to catch my breath. And I’m looking forward to getting around to your blogs and catching up!

If you have a garden (vegetables or flowers), how is it going this year? Have you read any good books lately to recommend?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The value of practice: What the teacher learned from the student

Note: I also shared this on my editing website, with a few changes, HERE. I wanted to share my experience with this extraordinary student with you, dear readers. But feel free to also check out my other website if you’d like.

Years ago when I was a graduate student, I taught mostly freshmen in writing classes at a state university in Ohio.
One semester I started a class of 112 writing, the top level. It was the last hurdle for the students. Unless their majors required other writing classes, that was the last one they had to take.
On that first day of class, after I had dismissed the students, a young woman stayed after to talk with me. Vickie told me she had taken 112 before but was choosing to take it again because she didn’t feel like she had learned enough or become strong enough of a writer.
Would I be willing to spend extra time with her between classes helping her with her writing?
So we began. Usually I assigned one essay a week, with classes built around both form and content. Every week, Vickie visited my office and brought me her draft essay, which I read and then discussed with her.
We talked about what her main idea really was and whether or not she was hiding it among the other ideas. We talked about different ways to organize her work. We talked about sentence structure and word choice.
I never told Vickie how to write the essay. But I gave her feedback and new ideas to consider.
She wasn’t getting special treatment from me. My door was open to all my students. But Vickie consistently took advantage of the help.
One day we were discussing some things going on in her life. She was a graphic arts major and was on the university swim team. I was never particularly artistic and definitely never athletic.
“I’ve always wanted to be an artist,” I said.
“I’ve always wanted to be a good student,” she said.
You are a good student, I told her. You work hard. You’re improving in your writing. You should be proud of yourself, I told her.
Vickie ended the class by getting a solid B. She was so pleased with herself. And I was so proud of her.
And I was so impressed with her willingness to practice to get better.
I’ve thought of Vickie often through the years, and when I was considering writing about her, I came up with these lessons she taught me about the importance of practice.

·         Make the decision to get better at something. I don’t believe you drift into a practice. You make a decision that you will begin a practice. Making a decision shows commitment. Vickie committed to taking a class she had already taken and wasn’t required to retake.
·         Put in the time. Practice takes time. Whether it is 15 minutes a day or an hour a week, working to become better takes time. Even with a busy schedule as a student-athlete, Vickie made time to work on her writing.
·         Put in the effort. Vickie had to make the effort to write a draft in time for me to review it with her before she revised it. She couldn’t blow off the assignment until right before it was due. She had to work on it, then work on it some more.
·         Don’t try to go it alone. Vickie enlisted help. That help in her writing endeavor was me. She didn’t have to struggle alone. I could offer not only technical assistance, but encouragement. We all need encouragement.
·         Persevere. I’m sure Vickie got tired of pouring so much time into writing essays that had nothing to do with her major classes. But she didn’t give up. She kept showing up in class and at my office door.

And here is what I’m sharing with you that I didn’t on my editing website.
It has been about 25 years since Vickie was my student. Some years after Vickie was my student, I read in an alumni magazine that she had passed away after a car accident.
Even though I had not seen or spoken with Vickie for about five years at that time, the news of her death hit me hard. It hurt to think that this talented, beautiful, kind young woman had lost her life so early.
So my memories of Vickie are very special to me. She taught me a lot that I want to share with others.

How important is practice to you when learning something new? Have you ever known a person who taught you lessons about the importance of practice?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rain and a groundhog

The trees, grass, and shrubs are incredibly green right now.

Rain, rain, rain. That’s what we’ve had nearly all day Thursday and part of the day Wednesday. As I write this Thursday night, it’s supposed to last until Friday morning. I don’t know how many inches we’ve gotten here at the house—we don’t have a rain gauge—but some areas were supposed to get up to four inches.

A critter got into the radishes planted in the uncovered portion of the raised bed garden this week. I’m surprised it took this long.
Larry found critter footprints on the raised bed and on pipe he’s using to put in a watering system (more on that next week).
Apparently, it’s a groundhog. We saw one in the backyard Thursday, munching away on the grass and clover. I think he’s cute. Larry does not.
No, I didn’t get a picture. But if he sticks around, I may get another chance.

Speaking of radishes, I apparently didn’t thin them soon enough and/or enough period, and they couldn’t grow. Lesson learned. Many more lessons to come, I’m sure.

I’m reading a very good book called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer.
My minister recommended Palmer’s books to me, so I ordered this one and started reading it Thursday.
I am already marking passages and realizing that this is one of those books I will want to read again and again.
It’s raising questions in me that I want to write about. Sometimes I figure things out best when I write.

Tonight I’ll take photos for the newspaper at the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life event in Rustburg, our county seat. I’ll try to get photos of the opening walks for survivors and caregivers and candid photos of participants.
The Relay is certainly a good cause. So many people’s lives are affected by cancer in some way.

Take care, dear readers, and have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Finding joy in plants

Raised bed garden, May 10, 2014.

Someone told me last week to find what gives me joy. (You know who you are!)
I had written about the toll that covering court cases takes on me, what a difficult time I was having dealing with it.
So my friend gave me advice that we should all follow: find the joy.

Saturday morning I mothered my fledgling garden. I pulled a few weeds, loosened up the dirt and looked over the plants. And, of course, took pictures.
Here are some photos to catch you up on my growing plants.

Carrots and broccoli.

Cucumbers. We lost some of the early plants to a freeze.

Cucumber plant up close.


Prize Head and Romaine lettuce.
Lettuce up close.

What has brought YOU joy lately?

I’ve posted my second blog post on my editing website. It's called "Just Start Writing." If you’d like to check it out, go HERE.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Covering court

A caterpillars' nest in a tree near my house. A walk outside, noticing the details of nature, is a balm to me.

Until I started working for the newspaper almost five years ago, I had been a part of a court proceeding twice. Once when I was 16 and got a ticket for improper driving for hitting a mailbox during driver’s education training (Yes, embarrassing. No one was hurt, thank goodness). And once nearly 20 years ago when I was a victim of a crime.
One of my regular beats since I started with the paper has been covering the courts. I’ve covered all kinds of crime: murders, drug crimes, burglaries, robberies, assaults, and on and on.
One thing I’ve discovered is that if you want to see drama, a wide range of the human condition, sit in court for an afternoon and watch the cases that come up.
I’ve heard wailing, laughter, defiant words. I’ve heard pleas of innocence, apologies for horrific crimes, promises to live in such a way as to never have to appear in court again.
I’ve seen family members of victims and defendants bend at the waist, crying in sorrow. I’ve seen law enforcement officers stand around the victim’s family protectively as the convicted defendant leaves court.
I’ve waited in the courtroom after the hearing is over so I wouldn’t intrude on family members standing outside in the hall, consoling each other. I’ve taken the stairs instead of the elevator so I could have a moment alone. I’ve sat in my car outside the courthouse crying too hard to drive.

The last several weeks, I’ve been in court a lot, covering cases for the paper. The tragedies I witness are not my tragedies. I don’t have the pressures that the prosecutors and law enforcement officers have.
But my time in court takes its toll.
One way I’ve coped it to write about it. Of course, I write the stories about the court proceedings for the newspaper: man found guilty, judge sentences defendant to 25 years, mistrial declared.
And that writing is a way of coping because I’m taking what I’ve observed and learned, and I’ve told the story of what happened in the community. I’ve documented a piece of the community.
But I’ve also been writing on my own, typing out thoughts I’ve had about my experiences in court, what I’ve learned, what I struggle with.
I’ve been holding on to these thoughts and feelings for nearly five years. I’ve made little notes of observations in the backs of my reporter’s notebooks, but I’ve never sat down and written with purpose the things that weigh on my after a difficult hearing, that have kept me awake many nights.

That’s where I’ve been mentally and emotionally lately. I’ve taken few photographs. I’ve been visiting my blogger friends’ sites less. I’ve been contemplating the unanswerable questions more often.

I think the writing is helping. And I have to remind myself, with deep breaths, with thoughts of Larry and Chase Bird, that my life is not the courtroom or the cases that I cover. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The second wave

The trees in our neighborhood are leafing out in various shades of green.

I’ve spent the last several days working on what I’m calling the “second wave” of my freelance editing business.
Previously, I did the legal things I needed to do to start the business, created a website, and did some assignments.
But I wasn’t satisfied. And I knew I had to do more marketing.

So I revamped my website and started a blog on the website. I plan to post once a week there.

The first blog post is up now: “Why another set of eyes can be so important to your writing.”

I’ve still got lots to do to get the word out about my services. But I’m enjoying the process. It’s both frightening and fun to be the one who makes the business decisions. I have the satisfaction of knowing that something I once feared so much is now a reality.

We really can overcome fear.

If you’d like to check out my website, you can go HERE and click on "Blog."

I liked how the sun caught the tops of the trees.

I didn’t get outside as much as I would have liked over the weekend, but I did get some photos on a walk Sunday morning. I’ve shared some of those photos in this post.

I don't know the proper name for them, but the oak trees are full of these pollen pods.

Larry blew them off the driveway Friday, but they were back on Sunday.

Our cars are covered with tree pollen. Just a sign of spring.

This week will be very busy at my newspaper job, but I’m hoping to make time every day to get outside and record some of this spring beauty. I already missed getting photos of the red bud—I don’t want to miss anything else.

What have you done lately to overcome a fear—no matter how small it seemed?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Out the window

I’m sorry I missed posting on Wednesday this week.
I’ve been having some stomach problems, and on Monday I had to work part of the day from home because I felt so bad. Late nights working and lots to do for the newspaper, plus spring allergies, have me worn out.
I was off Thursday and am also off from the newspaper today, so I have been enjoying some restful time.

Happy May! May is one of my favorite months, and not just because my birthday comes along. Spring seems to fully settle in during May, and the trees are showing off their new green in earnest. I feel surrounded by new life.

Chase Bird watching.

Chase Bird sometimes perches on top of the sofa in the living room and looks out the large window facing the backyard. I’m sure he sees things that I don’t.
I had to sneak to get the above photo of him. I “casually” walked over to the table and got out the camera without saying anything to him. I snapped off a few before he turned to look at me, wearing an expression of, “Again? Pictures again?”

A view of the backyard. The dogwoods are in front of Larry's shop and a tool shed. The raised bed garden is on on the right.

Out the window, the yard is looking so pretty. I took the photos of the dogwoods and spirea over the past weekend.
We had a bit of a stumbling block as soon as the mowing season started. The riding lawn mower wouldn’t start, and it took the repair shop about two weeks to fix it.
The push mower isn’t the best, so for a little while, a yard was looking a little raggedy.
I would love to make more of the backyard into gardening areas, partly to cut down on the parts that need mowing.

A closer look at the dogwoods silhouetted against the other trees.

Spirea in the backyard.

I met my minister for coffee this morning and we had a nice talk. I haven’t been attending church—for a variety of reasons, mostly from inertia.
But he’s so good about taking time to discuss spiritual and theological questions with me and is accepting of my doubts. He also knows about my OCD and how that has affected my spiritual life.
I want to get back to church, though. It helps me to focus on what’s important to me.

Last weekend I finished the latest Nevada Barr book, Destroyer Angel, featuring her character, Anna Pigeon. Anna works for the National Park Service, and most of Barr’s books take place in a national park.
The books are not formulaic, though. They’re well written, and Anna is a well-rounded character who loves animals and nature. I find that I have a lot in common with her.
Barr’s books are wonderful. She’s the only author I’ve read whose writing about frightening situations has made me scared to turn the page.
Have you read anything good lately?