Road Map Skills

 

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On a warm Sunday morning, Daddy parked our blue Buick by the back door and opened the trunk. Handing him my suitcase, he added it to the other luggage in the massive compartment. Back in the house, I picked up a couple of books, a stack of Teen and Tiger Beat magazines, and the pillow from my bed. Placing them and my purse on the floor of the backseat, I got in while my sister did the same on her side. After one last check of the house, Momma and Daddy got in the car. We pulled out of the driveway and began the 1600 mile, two-and-a-half-day drive from our home in south Arkansas to southern California.

We had taken summer car trips most of my life: half-day drives to northwest Arkansas to visit family and day-long trips to Alabama so Grandma could see her sister and father. Since we made these trips once a year, Daddy knew the route to take. This trip was different. Though we were going to visit family, we were traveling in unfamiliar territory. This was 1979, long before GPS and navigation systems were available. Instead, to navigate across the country, we would depend on a road map.

I’ve enjoyed looking at maps for as long as I can remember. Whether paper road maps that unfold or maps in my history and geography textbooks, maps from centuries past or a modern road atlas, I could spend hours studying them. Along the way, I learned the basics of reading a map, and as we began our trip, I asked to look at the road atlas we were using.

Tracing with my finger, I realized I was able to follow our route. I looked ahead, to see if I knew where we would turn next, then explored the legend, learning what unfamiliar marks on the map represented. There were small numbers printed beside the highways and roads, and I asked what they meant. Daddy explained they represented the miles between towns. Watching the scenery out the window, I saw the highway signs, their numbers corresponding to the ones on the map. Coming to an intersection, I found the highway number we needed and followed the arrows to know which way we should go. The more I learned, the more confident I became in my ability to use the map, skills put to the test when we drove out of Arkansas and onto unfamiliar highways. I was surprised – and pleased – when Daddy asked me what road to take or how far to the next turn off. As Momma confirmed my answers with her written directions, my pride grew.

Crossing into a new state, we would stop at the Tourist Information Center and pick up the free road map they offered. Easier to hold than the bound atlas, they were opened then re-folded, showing only the area we were driving through. These maps also gave cities their own maps, detailing the highways and major streets helping us find the routes to bypass the congested downtown areas.

Near Amarillo, Texas we merged onto Interstate 40. This would be our route as we traveled west through New Mexico and Arizona until it ended in Barstow, California. There was no need to read the map, but I still kept it close by. To pass the time I noted the highway number at an exit, then traced its route to see where it led. Looking at the spiderweb of highways stretching across the pages, I’d choose one and see what towns and sights were nearby. The more I looked, the more I discovered about the land we were passing through.

Nearing San Bernadino, our destination, the traffic increased until all lanes were filled with speeding cars, trucks and motorcycles. This was very different from the rural roads and small-town streets back home. Now, the map wasn’t detailed enough to help and we used the written directions Momma had received from a cousin. With cars passing on both sides, and on- and off-ramps appearing quickly, Daddy needed each of us to watch for our exit and clear traffic when we changed lanes. It was an intense hour or so, but we found our exit and soon pulled into our cousin’s driveway.

I have wonderful memories from that trip. I visited Hollywood and Universal Studios, attended my first professional baseball game, and went to the beach and played in the surf. We visited the Grand Canyon and we watched the flat yellow prairie of west Texas give way to the brown rocky hills of New Mexico. My fondest memory, though, is the pride I felt when my parents trusted me with reading the road map, giving me a boost of confidence I needed in my mid-teens. The road map skills I developed that trip have served me well since.

Old habits die hard, the saying goes, and when it comes to maps, that is true for me. I still prefer a paper map to plan road trips, spreading it out to understand an area and tracing the route I want to take. I purchased a road atlas to find the quickest way to make the 12-hour drive when I moved to Florida, and I still refer to it to help me visualize a location. I will use an online map to plan a trip, but I write out brief directions to refer to when driving. It is a system that works well for me, yet I feel like an anomaly. Do other people use paper maps anymore or have GPS and spoken navigation taken over? The last time I requested maps from several state tourism offices, the ones I received showed major roads but left off many of the backcountry highways I like to explore. Road maps and atlases can be purchased, but they are hard to find in the middle of a trip.

If maps are not readily available, do people know how to read them? If not, what is lost without those skills? Aside from the obvious – not being able to navigate if there is no power or signal to the GPS – there is also the loss of visualizing our place in a city, state, country or the world. Reading a map requires actually noticing where you are, looking for road signs to guide you, not waiting to be told where to turn. Maps can point out things along the route you might otherwise miss, be it a historic site, a hidden lake, or a town with a funny name. While GPS can be very helpful, telling you which lane to get in on unfamiliar city streets and on busy highway exits, using them without ever consulting a map means you lose out on the bigger picture of where you are and what is around you.

I know that with a map, and time to study it, I can find my way to a destination whether across town or across the country. It may be “old school,” but I am proud of my road map skills.

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Daffodils

“Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”
W
illiam Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The dirt road rises and the dense woods open to reveal the cleared land where our house and yard sit. Row upon row of bright yellow daffodils blanket the hill beside the road and driveway, a guide to the entrance. Even though there is still a chill in the air, I excitedly think “it is spring!”

A second large patch of daffodils decorates our backyard. When in bloom, they cover almost half the grassy area where I practice cartwheels and round offs. Daffodils also circle a large oak tree and are scattered in clusters around the yard.

Daffodil is the common name for any of the varieties that fall within the Narcissus genus, a member of the Amaryllis family. Thought to have originated in the woods and meadows of southern Europe, particularly the Iberian Penninsula, and North Africa, they spread out from there reaching Asia by the 10th century. Their popularity grew in Europe after the 16th century and they were the subject of poems by William Shakespeare and Willliam Wordsworth. Settlers brought them to the American colonies, and today they can be found throughout the United States.

“Daffodils,
That come before the swallow does, and take
The winds of March with beauty.” 
William Shakespear (1564-1616)

When I was about seven Aunt Kate had me help her plant a small row of daffodil bulbs in an empty space between two outbuildings we used for storage. I helped her dig out a trough and watched as she planted the first bulb, showing me how to correctly place it. She had me plant the remaining 8 or 9 bulbs, then fill in with the dirt we had dug out. Handing me the metal watering can, she told me to give them a good soak to help pack down the dirt and set the bulbs. (Tips for planting and growing your own daffodils.)

The next spring, like magic, the leaves and buds appeared, opening their trumpet-shaped blooms a few days later. I was excited to have planted something that actually bloomed, not realizing that daffodils are some of the easiest flowers to grow. Seeing the daffodils return each spring always brought a smile to my face.

 

Daffodils have a long history of breeding and by 1739 Dutch nursery catalogs listed 50 different varieties available. Today there are between 40-200 different daffodil species and 25,000 hybrids registered in a 13 part classification system.  I had no idea daffodils came in so many varieties even though Aunt Kate once tried to teach me the different ones that grew in our yard. I only remember her pointing out jonquils, buttercups (which actually are not daffodils), and my favorite name, the double daffodil “Scrambled Eggs”, whose center does indeed resemble scrambled eggs.

I often walked among the rows of daffodils, picking a few and catching a whiff of the scent in the spring breeze. Bending down to sniff individual blooms, I noticed some were stronger than others. When I was 16, I picked handfuls of daffodils, stuffed them into a wide-mouth vase and placed them on the nightstand beside my bed, a cheery sight when I entered my room. Laying in bed that night, I noticed the scent was rather strong with so many blooms crammed together, and I woke the next morning almost overpowered from the scent filling my nose and tickling my throat. Still, I loved it and kept them there as long as possible, removing dead ones, and dusting up the yellow pollen that coated the table each day.

The daffodils would bloom for a few weeks unless a late freeze or frost killed them. As the blooms died, we would deadhead them, pulling off the dried, shriveled, brown heads. The leaves stayed green for a few weeks, but once they began to yellow Daddy would mow them down, allowing the bulbs to begin creating the flowers for the next year.

After Momma and Daddy sold the house and moved to town, Momma planted daffodils around their new yard. Not only was she carrying on the family tradition, she was also celebrating the annual Daffodil Festival in my hometown of Camden, Arkansas. Long associated with spring festivals, daffodils are celebrated annually in other parts of Arkansas and throughout the United States.

I don’t know if the daffodils, especially the small row I planted, continue to bloom around the old house. If they do, I hope the new owners enjoy them. I miss seeing them each spring, yet spending most of my adult years renting or moving didn’t make it feasible to plant my own. Maybe now is the time to change that. Daffodils grow in zones 3-10, and while there is mixed information on how well they do in Florida, I am in zone 9a so it is worth a try. Time to take a look at what is available, order a dozen or so bulbs, plant them around the yard and renew the tradition of welcoming spring with daffodils.

Sources:
American Daffodil Society, https://daffodilusa.org/
Southern Living, https://www.southernliving.com/garden/flowers/daffodil-flower-facts
Todayshomeowner.com, https://www.todayshomeowner.com/whats-the-difference-between-daffodils-jonquils-and-buttercups/
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(plant)

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Full Moon Magic

Today is a full moon. For centuries the full moon has been blamed for madness, werewolf transformations and an increase of strange behavior (based on stories from First Responders and Emergency Room workers). While there isn’t scientific evidence to support these beliefs, the stories continue.

For me, however, the full moon has always been magical. Waking up as a child to the light of the full moon streaming in through my bedroom windows, I would look around the room, amazed at how much light there was in the dark room. It seemed as bright as the sun – it is sunlight reflected off the moon’s surface after all – but the light is different, subtler, softer. When I got older, I realized that under a full moon I could walk around outside without the need for a flashlight. I have a friend who makes it a point to take a walk under the light of the full moon each month, soaking in its magic. I like this idea, and if I can’t walk, I will stand outside and look up, the light of the full moon shining on my face.

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My favorite memories, however, are from when I lived aboard my sailboat. Here’s that story:

I crawl into the berth at the back of the boat and settle in for the night. Looking up, I can see out the open hatch. While the lights from the marina block out most stars, I can see the backstay running from the top of the mast to the stern of the boat just behind my bed.

A breeze moves the boat, gently rocking me to sleep. A few hours later, I wake up and realize my cabin is filled with light. Looking up through the hatch, I see the full moon, perfectly positioned to shine on my face. It is only a few days each month that the moon is in the right position for this to happen. Mentioning this to a friend, she asks why I don’t close the hatch, and maybe even cover it, to prevent the light from waking me. Because I like the moonlight on my face, I reply. It is only a few days each month, and I enjoy lying there, in the quiet of the night, watching the moon.

The return of the full moon reflects the rhythms of nature, marking the passage of time. I reflect on what has happened in the past month, when the moon last visited during the night, and wonder what is to come in the next.

Those thoughts float through my head as the moon slowly moves away from my face. Sleep returns until the light of the sun begins filling the cabin. Another reminder of the rhythms of nature, the passage of time. A new day begins. And before I know it, enough days will pass, and the full moon will return.

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Cardinals

Seeing cardinals throughout my life.

Seeing cardinals throughout my life.Sometimes, when I bend down and look under the awning over the bathroom window I can see him. A male cardinal sitting near the top of the neighbor’s tree. A bright shock of red that stands out against blue sky and green leaves, that also provides much-needed color on gray days.

The tree is often a bother, dropping small leaves that land among the small lava rocks that border the patio. It seems I am constantly picking them up. Yet, that tree gives the cardinal a place to land so that I can see him, a sight that always makes me happy.

My great aunt began every day feeding the squirrels and birds that filled our yard. First, she would throw birdseed on the ground and placed it in feeders. As the birds began to arrive to eat, she’d crack open the pecans to feed the squirrels that would take them from her hand. Of the numerous birds that arrived, the red feathers of the male cardinal were the easiest to recognize, and the first bird I could identify.

Many years later, I moved to Memphis and discovered that a bush outside the garage was home to a male and female cardinal. After watching them flying in and out of the bush, I carefully pulled back the branches and discovered the nest they were building. A careful look a few weeks later revealed three pale, speckled eggs. Then one day I walked by the bush and was surprised as a flash of red flew out of the bush, just missing me. The male cardinal was warning me to keep my distance from the featherless babies that now inhabited the nest.

I moved a mile or so away a couple of years later. Sitting on my back patio, I enjoyed the variety of birds that flew by: mockingbirds, robins, blue jays, and cardinals. I often wondered if those cardinals were related to the ones who built the nest in the bush by the garage of my former home.

I don’t see as many cardinals in Florida. They don’t stop at the birdbath outside the living room window, perhaps because it is often filled with mockingbirds, doves, finches, small blackbirds, and the occasional woodpecker. So anytime I do see them, whether on the utility lines behind the house or perched atop the neighbor’s tree, it is a happy sight.

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Painted Bones

Growing up in the country, we always had a couple of dogs, our version of an alarm system. For a treat, Momma would give them bones leftover after cooking roasts and pork chops, and they’d carry them into the yard and happily gnaw on them for hours. Sometimes my sister and I would step on them while playing outside. It hurt for a minute but was just a part of our life.

Until that afternoon.

I was five or 6, my sister three years younger. Daddy was mowing the yard, and Great-Aunt Kate, who lived with us, was walking around outside checking on her chickens and flowers. Suddenly, there was a loud “clunk” as the mower picked up a bone and forcefully threw it out the side of the mower and into Aunt Kate. Daddy stopped the mower and jumped off while yelling to Momma to come help. Aunt Kate had been badly hurt.

After they got her in bed, my sister and I were given the job of walking through the yard and picking up all the pieces of bones we could find, to prevent this happening again. As we found bits and pieces, we proudly piled them on the steps to the back door. When we thought we had found them all, I told Momma, who thanked me and told me we could go back to playing.

My sister, however, had another idea.

Gathering her watercolors and brushes, she proceeded to paint the bones we had collected. Nothing fancy, just transparent blotches of colors on the dirty, chewed bones. Momma came out as she was finishing, and oohed and aahed over them, telling her what a good job she had done.

A few days later, a friend visited to see how Aunt Kate was doing. As Momma described all that had happened, she showed her the painted bones. The friend looked at them 0and said, “how creative!”

It was creative to see the bones differently, not as trash, but as a canvas to create on. It was creative take something that had caused pain and beautify it. And what I felt was that since I didn’t think of it, I was not creative. I think I’ve always believed that you either are creative, or you aren’t. It isn’t something to be learned or developed. And since I didn’t have the idea to paint the bones, I wasn’t creative.

Every time I have difficulty writing my stories, my first thought is I’m not meant to be writing and need to just move on to something else. Every time I look at Instagram and see the beautiful photographs, see the creative ideas people have for sharing their stories, I wonder why I have trouble coming up with ideas to post, and think, yet again, that I’m not creative. But I am tired of holding myself back, tired of assuming I’m not creative and want to challenge the assumption I’ve held for too many years.

I want to expand my definition of what creativity is. It isn’t just about seeing old bones as a surface that can be decorated. Taking leftovers and making a good meal out of them is creative. Finding a way to bring in more money is creative. Finding a way to change your life, however slowly, is creative. Some of us may naturally be more creative, but it is a skill we can all learn. Maybe it is more like a muscle that needs to be exercised, developed, refined.

In 2018 I want to challenge myself to explore being creative. Tell myself, as often as I need to, that I am a creative person. Accept that some days writing is hard, and keep working on it anyway, because that is what creative people do – keep working and trying different things.

Let’s see where a creative mindset will lead me!

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Toy Trains

Christmas morning in front of tree with toy train on floor

Christmas morning in front of tree with toy train on floorI don’t remember Christmas when I was two years old. Pictures show me smiling as I sit on my new tricycle. On the floor around me are my other gifts, including a small train track with a few cars on it.

According to the story, my dad wanted to get me a toy train set for Christmas. “You can’t give a girl a train set!” my mom told him. “Why not?” he asked. He thought it was a fine gift for any child. As the second of 3 boys, he wasn’t around girls while growing up so his reference point was what he and his brothers had played with.

I am sure you can imagine who actually played with the toy trains. Growing up he always had to share with his brothers, but this time he was in charge. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever played with it, and since I had one sibling, a younger sister born 7 months after I received it, my dad probably played with it more than anyone.

Twenty-five years later, my mom mentioned that several of their friends were putting train sets under their Christmas trees as decoration. She thought it was a fun idea, and of course, my dad was fascinated to watch them go around. That gave me an idea.

My dad was always hard to buy gifts for. If he asked for anything, it was something practical that he needed. A homemade card meant more to him than anything that could be bought, and in later years, his usual reply was “just come home for Christmas.” So buying him a train set, one that was his – no sharing with brothers, no pretending it was his daughter’s gift – seemed the perfect opportunity to give him something fun and completely unexpected.

The look of joy on his face when he opened that gift is one of my favorite Christmas memories as an adult. I didn’t often surprise my dad, but the train set did. It was a larger than the one I received, both in the number of cars and the size of them. After Christmas, he carefully padded the top of the dining room table, placed a large piece of plywood on top, attached the track, and played with the train set for months. He added more cars, and more track to handle them. Eventually, it entertained the grandchildren as it ran under the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights, letting a third generation share the joy of toy trains at Christmas.

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Morning Fog

We always reserve the same campsite, our home away from home. There is comfort in knowing what to expect, where the fire pit and hook-ups are located, and how we need to back in. It may not be adventurous, but since we only go for two days, the familiarity helps us relax and enjoy the time.

As the seasons change, the campsite also changes. How the sun hits the camper at high noon, which shades need to be closed to keep the sun out, how green the trees and shrubs are to block our view of neighboring campsites. And this morning, there is something new. Stepping out of the camper, I don’t notice it, but turning to walk down the hill to the bathhouse, a light layer of fog is visible, beginning about 15 feet above the ground. It doesn’t block out things out, just gives a misty haze to the trees and the rays of sunlight streaming through. 

It is quiet this morning. The only sounds are cars and trucks on nearby roads, planes flying overhead, and birds chirping up in the trees. The fog adds to the stillness.

It is chilly out, so I sit by the dying campfire. Plenty of heat still radiates off the wood, so my front is warm while my back is cool. I move my chair closer, and lean in, feeling the sting of the intense heat on my face.

A wiff of food cooking reaches my nose, and I realize I am hungry. A man and dog walk by, and I hear camper doors open and close. The sun is rising higher in the sky, burning off the fog as it does. It is time to gather what I need to prepare breakfast. It is time to begin the day.

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Ruffled Feathers

My great aunt had lived on the family farm her entire life, and each day she followed a regular routine for doing her daily chores. One morning, when I was about six, I followed her to one of the small buildings behind our house to see if I could help. As I watched, she unlatched the door, swung it open, and stepped inside. I paused at the threshold, allowing my eyes to adjust to the darker interior, then followed her in. Turning right, she walked to the wall, put her hand in one of the openings, and quickly withdrew it, holding what she had been after. It seemed easy enough and I wanted to try. Imitating her motions, I tentatively reached out my hand, put it into the next opening, and began feeling for one of my own to grab. But I was slower than my great aunt. Too slow. Ouch! The hen sitting in her nesting box did not want me to reach under her and remove the warm, smooth, freshly-laid egg. Disappointed in myself, I wondered if I would ever attempt gathering eggs again. Why did something that seemed easy have to be hard and painful?

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Thanksgiving Memories

How I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving has changed through the years. Some years I’ve been with family, some years alone; some years I’ve been filled with gratitude, while other years I’ve had to work hard to truly give thanks. Sometimes I’ve thanked what has come into my life, sometimes what has left my life, and sometimes I realize how thankful I am for what did not happen. I guess that’s life.

Here are some of my memories of celebrating Thanksgiving:

I was 2 months old my first Thanksgiving. My parents took me to northwest Arkansas to show me off to my grandmothers, great aunts, and numerous family friends. I have no memory of this, but there is a photo of me sitting with my grandmothers (whom I was named after).

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When I was two or 3, the table was set with the china, silver, and crystal. The relish tray, with pickles and pimento-stuffed green olives, was also on the table. The story goes that my mom walked into the dining room and saw me sitting at the table. On my plate were four or 5 olives. When asked why I had them there, my reply was I wanted to be sure I got some. It has become a family joke about putting the relish tray next to be so I can get my olives.

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Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was pretty much the same every year: roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans (later, green bean casserole), mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows, relish tray with pimento-stuffed green olives and sweet gherkins, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, and cranberry sauce from the can. Dessert was pie – usually pumpkin and pecan.

I don’t remember traveling for Thanksgiving. When I was 5, my maternal grandmother moved to my hometown, so we celebrated holidays with her. I remember Thanksgiving being a fairly quiet day. The kitchen was where the hustle and bustle was, the heat from the oven warming the dining room and den, where the TV was on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and then football games. The formal china, silver, and crystal came off the china cabinet shelves to grace our table.

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Thanksgiving my freshman year at college was my first trip back home, and after three months of dorm food, I was looking forward to our usual Thanksgiving dinner. I was not happy to get home and learn that instead of a full turkey, she was cooking some sort of turkey roll formed from turkey meat, and I let my unhappiness be known. It actually tasted fine, and the rest of the meal was what we usually had, but I had made my point. In the years to follow, my mom always let me know if she wanted to do something different (such as cook only a turkey breast, or order an already-cooked turkey from the grocery store deli) and asked if I was OK with that.

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I was a newlywed and we were going to my parents for Thanksgiving. Wanting to show that I was, indeed, grown up, I said I’d bring a pumpkin pie. Using the Betty Crocker cookbook I had “borrowed” from my mom, I bought canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spices, evaporated milk, and a pre-made pie crust. (I still haven’t mastered making a pie crust). My first effort came out rather well, with my dad taking a bite, smiling, and saying with some surprise, “Gladys, this is good pumpkin pie.” Made my day.

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While in grad school, my (now ex) husband and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving with a friend and his family. Everyone was very kind and gracious, and the food was delicious, but we were outsiders. I felt awkward the entire time and realized that I would rather stay home alone than be with people I don’t know just for the sake of not being alone.

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A couple of years later, we did stay home alone and I cooked my first turkey and all the fixings. I don’t remember why we didn’t visit family that year, but part of the reason probably was I wanted to do it myself to see if I could. I agonized over being sure the turkey was done and neither of us got sick. It all came out fine, except for the rolls. I tried a recipe I saw in the paper; while they tasted great, they didn’t rise, so were very thick and dense.

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Celebrating Thanksgiving while living in England was a different experience. A group of us Yanks who were there for a year got together to mark the occasion. It was strange watching the news that morning and realize that for almost everyone else in the country, it was just another Thursday. There was also the challenge of finding ingredients for traditional dishes: cornmeal to make cornbread for the southern dressing, sweet potatoes (there were yams, but they are not the same), canned cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin. We were able to pull it all together and had a wonderful day.

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After I got divorced, my ex and I alternated Thanksgiving with our child. And I found that the years I was alone, I just wanted to be by myself. I looked forward to eating what, and when, I wanted, watch what I wanted on TV, or read, take a nap, or whatever. Co-workers and friends always felt sorry for me and invited me over, and I always declined. I didn’t feel sorry for myself; I enjoyed the time and space alone.

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One year we were all there – me and my kid, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. My mom had premade the dressing and frozen it. In removing it from the freezer to thaw overnight, still in the glass baking dish, it slipped from her hands and crashed to the floor. Glass and cornbread stuffing went everywhere. She was distraught. My sister and I quickly cleaned up the mess, made a quick trip to the grocery store and baked a fresh batch, which we devoured with our turkey.

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My last Thanksgiving with my mom came as she was cleaning out in preparation for a move into assisted living near my sister. My dad had passed away the previous February, so it was very different than previous years. She did bake a pan of dressing but ordered the turkey from the grocery deli. What I most remember about it are watching her try to sort through years of paperwork trying to decide what to keep, what to shred, and what to give away, and of taking her to the ER on Saturday.

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My first Thanksgiving in Florida was 2 months after I moved. Alone again, I had no real plans for the day. After a cold start, the sun came out so about noon I got in my car and drove south through New Smyrna Beach and Titusville. The clouds rolled back in, and then, being late November, the sun was going down, so I headed back home to a dinner of turkey slices from the deli, stuffing made in the pan, and cranberry sauce with the berries. I ate dinner while watching DVDs on my computer and realized it had been a good day I was thankful for. The only thing missing was someone special to share it with.

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That had changed by the next Thanksgiving. I met my boyfriend in early September, and we celebrated our first Thanksgiving together by cooking. We prepared a whole turkey, stuffing ( I had always made dressing before), green bean casserole, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy… lots of gravy. A couple of friends joined us and we stuffed ourselves.

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This year we are walking down the street to have Thanksgiving with his sister and her boyfriend who moved here earlier this year. Our only responsibility is making mashed potatoes, and to show up with a big appetite. I am looking forward to not having to do much, yet it is different not spending the day cooking with my boyfriend.

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What will Thanksgiving next year be like?

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Writing By Hand

I have owned a personal computer since 1985. After typing term papers on a manual typewriter, where edits beyond typos meant retyping an entire page, using a word processor was a huge time saver. Since then I have continued using computers for typing papers, reports, forms, letters and, since the internet became available, emails. So when I began writing my stories, I naturally typed them on my computer. I type faster than I write, so it made sense to get the words out of my head as quickly as possible before I forgot them.

But, it turns out, typing my initial drafts doesn’t work for me. I find the physical act of writing on paper works much better. Seeing the words form from my hand somehow helps my thoughts flow better, and somehow, my handwriting is able to keep up.

Here’s how I currently write, the method that works best. I handwrite my first drafts on legal pads. I like having lines so I can write fast and not slope to the edge of the page. I leave every other line blank to make it easier to read, and to allow room to write edits.

Until this summer, I always wrote with a pen. Because of arthritis in my thumbs, I used rollerballs since the ink flow is smoother. Of course, that ink also easily bleeds through paper and can make a mess if it gets wet. Then I heard Danielle LaPorte say she used a mechanical pencil with a larger size lead to write in her planner.  And the light-bulb went off in my head.

I bought a couple of mechanical pencils and found the 1.3 mm lead worked well for me. It flows across the paper, can be erased if needed, and is easy on my fingers.

After I complete the first draft, I read through it, making notes and edits on the blank lines and the margins. Then I handwrite the 2nd draft, and edit again. By this point I am usually ready to type it on the computing, editing as I go. I double-space the text so I can print a copy to read aloud and edit by hand. Yes, I want a physical copy to edit; that’s what works for me.

An added bonus for me is that the paper-and-pencil method is portable. I can write from anywhere without having to carry a computer, worry about batteries dying or having access to electricity.

The biggest negative for me is the amount of paper that I go through. I hate to waste anything, and all that paper I use seems like a waste. That was part of why I tried drafting on my computer, to save paper. However, it just doesn’t work for me, and I am learning to be OK with it.

I’m not the only one that finds value in writing by hand. Here’s another writer, TE Shepherd, who also drafts by hand, and in this article, he talks about why it is beneficial to do so. Then this article from the Huffington Post delves into how your brain benefits when you write by hand.

Writing by hand may not be the best method for everyone, but I encourage you, whether writing professionally, for fun, or just keeping a journal, to try writing by hand. See the results then decide whether or not to continue. I may even change my system as time goes by. But for now, I’ll always have a supply of legal pads and mechanical pencils close by.

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