Monday, December 29, 2014

A Review of 2014: The Year of Adventure

I hope those of you who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful and peaceful holiday! Larry and I had a quiet but very enjoyable time.
It’s hard for me to believe that this is the last post I will write in 2014. The years go by so quickly now!
Before the start of 2014, I chose a word to guide me through the year: Adventure. I did have some adventures during the year, some fun and exciting, some not-so-fun but life-changing, some big, some small.
Here are some of my adventures in 2014:

January: I opened a freelance editing business.

February: I started thinking about and making notes to write a mystery novel. I went sledding for the first time in years and had a blast!

One of my favorite photos from 2014. It was taken by Larry.

March: I covered the Group 1A boys basketball finals in Richmond and wrote a story about it—me, a non-sportswriter.

April: Larry and I started our first garden in the raised bed.

The raised bed garden in June.

June: Relationships with family members changed forever.

July: I started to knit. I went on a ride-along with a deputy with the county sheriff’s office.

Chase Bird doesn't seem to think too highly of my knitting.

September: I made an adjustment in my medications that made a big, positive difference in my depression. I didn't start talk therapy as I planned. I put that off until 2015 because of scheduling problems.

October-November: I started and finished physical therapy for a problem that remains to be diagnosed for sure: Neck? Shoulder? Both?

November: Larry and I tried authentic Japanese food for the first time. We found snow at the Peaks of Otter on Thanksgiving Day.

One adventure I worked on the whole year was reading. Yes, reading is always an adventure for me. I set a goal to read 24 books. I thought that was manageable and not so high that I would set myself up for failure.
I actually went over my goal and read 27 books. That might end up being 28 for 2014 since I’m currently reading one of my Christmas books.
I read a lot of articles and essays, too.
All but three of the books I read fall into the mystery/thriller category. I’m not sure what that says about me. Yes, I love mysteries. But maybe I needed some escape time, too.
Of the mysteries, 15 of them were by John Sandford. I discovered him last Christmas, and as you can guess, I found his stories captivating.
Here are the three nonfiction books I read:

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. By Elyn R. Saks.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. By Palmer J. Parker.

Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World. By Shirley Hershey Showalter.

I’m not sure yet what number of books I will set as a goal for 2015, but it will be higher than 24 or even 27. And I hope to include more nonfiction books.

So there’s a quick overview of 2014, one that in no way reflects the complexity of life. I am glad to put 2014 behind me.
On Thursday, let’s talk about 2015.

Readers, what one word sums up your 2014?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Season’s Greetings

I’m sorry I was missing at the end of last week and didn’t post as I normally do on Thursday.
I have been having a bit of a hard time.
Physically, I haven’t been up to par.
For the newspaper I’ve been covering a lot of court recently, some very hard cases that make me think (for a while only) that there is no goodness in the world.
And I’ve been struggling with my decisions regarding my mother.

Late last week, as I drove back to Altavista from court in Rustburg, I wondered how Christmas and the other holidays this time of year can even occur when there is so much strife and unhappiness and despair in the world.
I still put a Christmas CD on in the car, though. And I heard these words from “Who Comes This Night,” a song written by Sally Stevens and Dave Grusin and sung by James Taylor on his album “James Taylor at Christmas”:

Who sends this song upon the air,
To ease the soul that’s aching?
To still the cry of deep despair
And heal the heart that’s breaking.

The light and the hope of the season aren’t just for those happily getting together with family, singing carols, opening presents, and eating big meals together.
The light and the hope are for those who feel lost, those who feel sad, those who are at the point where they feel nothing.
The light and the hope remind us of the good in the world. They are comfort to those who need it.
And we all need comfort sometimes.

May all of you who celebrate a holiday this time of year enjoy the season. And may all of you have joy and peace always.

I’ll be back next Monday, Dec. 29.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Where I’m from

This weekend, Larry and I drove to Rustburg, the county seat of Campbell County in Central Virginia.
I grew up in the country, so I don’t really have a “hometown.” But Rustburg was the closest thing to a town around our farm (six miles away), so I’ve always thought of it as the place I’m from.
To call Rustburg a town is a bit generous. It’s really a village. In fact, the road that runs through it is called Village Highway.
When I was growing up, if my parents or a neighbor said “We’re going to town,” they meant they were going to Lynchburg.

In my work for the newspaper, I visit Rustburg frequently to cover a court case or a Board of Supervisors meeting.
But our trip this weekend was for something fun: the Rustburg Christmas Parade.
After we parked the car, I got out my camera and snapped some photos of some of the “landmarks” in the village to share to give you a sense of where I’m from.
This first shot is actually from 2013. I took it before last year’s parade and liked it because it shows the main road through the village with Long Mountain (not very high) in the background.

From this year, here is the Citizen Services Building. It’s the newest county building, constructed to house the offices that closely serve the citizens. It includes the Treasurer’s Office, the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office, and the Community Development Office, which includes zoning, planning, and stormwater management.

I took this photo from too far off to get a clear shot, but I wanted to show you the building that the public library was housed in when I was a young girl. This is where I spent many happy hours.
Now the building houses the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office and the Farm Agency Office.

This is the current Rustburg Library. The School Administration Office is closer to the street, with the library at the end. It’s one of four branches in the county. One branch is in Altavista.

This is probably the most recognizable building to those knowledgeable about Campbell County history. It’s the Historic Courthouse, built in the 1840s. It was used by the courts until the new courthouse was built in the early 1980s.
The Historic Society of Campbell County is doing fundraising and working on renovating the building to enlarge its museum and preserve the county’s heritage.

This is the “new” courthouse. It’s not as impressive as the old one, but it’s nice. Some weeks I spend a lot of time within these walls.

Here’s another view of the courthouse. The adult detention center is connected to it.

This is a side view of Rustburg Presbyterian Church. It’s not a great shot, but it was what I was able to get with the parade crowds around me.
I don’t know how old the building is, but the way the brick is laid makes me think it has been around for a while. I’ve always thought it was a pretty church.
Members of the church give away free cookies and hot chocolate at the parade each year.

So there’s a little view of where I’m from. Altavista is part of Campbell County, and I’ve lived there for 11 years. But it still feels a bit like I’m visiting my old “home” when I go to Rustburg.

What do you consider your hometown to be?

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Yes, I am frustrated. Whenever I can’t find the answer to a question quickly, I tend to feel frustrated.
My question is: why are my shoulder and arm still hurting?
The pain started a few months ago in the upper, outside part of my arm. Then it spread to my shoulder. Sometimes I had tingling and a slightly numb sensation in my hand.
My orthopedic doctor thought I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I had five weeks of physical therapy. At one point, the pain got better. But it never went away. And I started having more intense bouts of pain.
My doctor ordered an MRI of my neck and referred me to a colleague of his, a spine doctor.
I saw her on Monday, and she said the MRI showed degenerative changes in my neck, but no nerve impingement.
So, where is the pain coming from?
She doesn’t know. She said the neck and shoulder have a lot of overlapping areas. She scheduled me for an electromyography, or EMG. It will test the health of my muscles and nerve cells in the problem areas.
The test can’t be done until the first week of January.

Accepting uncertainty is not my strong suit. So I’m frustrated. I am challenged to accept that I can’t always know something for sure, that sometimes I must just live with uncertainty.
I’m dealing with the pain. It’s worse at night, so I am keeping up with my regular activities during the day. I’m thankful for that. I’m taking a prescription NSAID, and that helps. Most nights, I put heat on my shoulder while I try to relax.

I have done Internet searches, trying to figure out “what’s wrong with me.” Compulsive searches for information is one way my OCD manifests itself. But I am aware of what I’m doing and try to pull myself back from Google.

I have to go with the flow of the medical field right now. I have to accept that the doctors don’t know what’s causing the pain. The answers will eventually come, I hope.

And I choose to continue to try to find the fun and peaceful and beautiful moments of each day.
Here’s one: The other day, I walked by a car parked in Rustburg. On the front of the car was a red spongy-looking ball.
I wonder what that is, I thought.
Then I saw the reindeer antlers.
Car as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

How do you deal with uncertainty?

Monday, December 8, 2014

A pause in the overwhelm

“The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.”
-Buddy in the movie Elf
A hectic week behind me and another one ahead. Or so it seems when I think of all that I have to do. I remind myself that I don’t have to do everything at once, and it will all get done eventually. Right?

Larry and I spent some time outside the Land of Overwhelm Sunday. We got out the trees (one large and one small) and decorated the large one that we put in the den. Here’s a photo taken with my phone:

We still need to add the finishing touches, including the tree skirt.

While we decorated, we watched the movie Elf. My blogger friend Keith Wynn of Musings of An Unapologetic Dreamer recommended the movie as one of his favorites, and he recently sprinkled Facebook with quotes from it.
We enjoyed Elf. It made us laugh and feel a bit more lighthearted about the holidays.

As we go through this week, let’s find ways to take a break from the work and stress and enjoy the moment.

Chase Bird isn't sure what he thinks of the intrusion of the tree. His expression says it all.

What is your favorite holiday movie?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Getting in the holiday spirit

I'm sharing some shots of nature-based ornaments that were on the tree in the Peaks of Otter Lodge.

The other day, a friend told me he just wasn’t in the Christmas spirit yet. Even though lights and trees and other decorations seem to have spilled out onto the landscape within the last week or so, he’s just not there yet.

I’m not quite there yet, either. I think part of it has to do with the differences in planning and decorating that have occurred since I was a child.
When I was a child, stores didn’t usually put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. When I went with my parents to Lynchburg to shop in December, part of the pleasure was to walk along the sidewalks and look at each store’s window displays.
Each store had something different—angel figures or a Santa Claus or trees. If the display had a moving part—like a Santa that waved his hand—that made it even more fun.
And I would start to get excited.
We always had a live pine tree that my father set up in the living room. It would go up about a week before Christmas. Putting the lights on was the first hurdle. Back then, if one light on a strand went out, they all went out. Someone would have to check each one to find the burned out light.
Then came the ornaments and finally the crowning touch—icicles. I loved the sight of the silver strands hanging from the tree.
Then the time crawled by until Christmas Day.

How things have changed. Whether they’ve changed for the better depends on your perspective.
Christmas decorations show up in the stores after Halloween. Christmas music starts playing on the radio before Thanksgiving. The effect on me is that I start feeling behind before December even gets here.
I haven’t started shopping! Should we put the tree up this weekend? What about outside decorations? Everyone has their decorations up except me!

Once I start participating a little in the season, at my own pace, I begin to feel less panicked. I remind myself that I don’t have to do everything that everyone else does to prepare for the holidays.
I haven’t finished my shopping, but I have done some. And it was all online. Shopping online takes away a lot of my stress about shopping. I just don’t like getting in the crowded stores if I can help it.
We’ll probably put up our tree this weekend. Larry and I put up pre-lit artificial trees. The lights are LED, so they don’t get so hot like the big bulbs would.
No icicles. Little kitties might eat them. And they seem irritating now, with the static electricity that makes them stick to everything.
Christmas movies also get me in the holiday spirit. Larry loves “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, and we check the listings to make sure we can watch it at least once during the holidays. We also like some of the Hallmark Channel’s movies. I always watch out for “A Dog Named Christmas” and “November Christmas.”
We have our favorite Christmas music, too. Larry likes the older pop songs the best. I like the carols best. We both like listening to the CDs of Susan Boyle, Josh Groban, and James Taylor. I listen to them as I drive, a way I can include celebration in the day.
And then there are the parades. The Altavista Christmas Parade is tonight. I’ll be taking pictures for the paper. The Rustburg Christmas Parade (Rustburg is our county seat) is Dec. 14, and I’ll be there, too. By then, I will be excited.

My Christmas spirit has grown quieter as I’ve gotten older. I listen to the words of the songs more closely. I meditate more on what the meaning behind the celebration is for me. I think about all the holidays people celebrate this month.
 Times have changed. That’s normal and that’s OK. But do you know something that hasn’t changed? I still have a hard time falling asleep on Christmas Eve.

Has the way you feel about the holidays changed as you’ve gotten older? If so, how?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Doing more than just getting through it

I took this photo out my kitchen window last Monday. The town has been busy scooping up the leaves left at the curbside. They "vacuumed" up a large amount at our house last week. Larry has been busy gathering more for them to pick up this week.

Happy December! Is anyone else finding it hard to believe that the end of 2014 is upon us?

December is a particularly busy month for many. Work may be busier than usual with end-of-the-year assignments. The different holidays call us to prepare, often with shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating. The obligations can pile up. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

I’m facing a workweek that seems overwhelming to me. In fact, I’ve been dreading it. I have some challenging assignments with the newspaper that will keep me working late at least two, possibly three nights this week. And I have some personal obligations to take care of.

Even before I started my four-day Thanksgiving weekend, I looked forward and hated the thought of this coming week. It would be one of those weeks that I’d just get through, I thought. Just put my head down and do it and anticipate the weekend.

But . . . I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to feel like I have to “get through” certain days. I no longer want to wait until everything is “perfect”—not a hint of depression, no anxiety, no obsessive thoughts, no obligations, no responsibilities, etc.—to enjoy and appreciate life.

Granted, we all face difficult times when through necessity we just put one foot in front of the other. But this is a workweek I’m dreading. These weeks are a regular part of my life. I don’t want to wait for the good days anymore. I want to allow myself to have a good day any day.

This thinking harkens back to the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what makes for a good day. Shirley Hershey Showalter kindly posted it on her blog.
I can’t keep the good days for just those outside the newspaper office. Yes, things get hectic. I feel anxiety when facing a tight deadline, when covering something particularly controversial.
But I enjoy the work. Why not enjoy the day? Why not make each day, in some way, a good day? Even if I feel anxious, even if I fall into some OCD compulsions because of the stress, why not see the opportunity for a good day?
After all, this day is really all I have.

So I made a list of things I could do throughout the day to enjoy the day, to do meaningful work, to handle any extra anxiety, to do more than “get through” the day. And I’ve done some other planning and some preparation.

This week will be an experiment for me. I’ll report on how it goes.
In the meantime, please share in the comments section something that you do to get through the overwhelming, busy times. I love reading about others’ strategies, and I’m sure the other readers will appreciate them, too.

I’ll be back on my regular blogging schedule this week, so I’ll see you Thursday!