May Day

A friend once told me that the perfect time for a new beginning is when the first of a month falls on a Monday.  Start the diet, give up the habit, resolve to do better in some aspect of your life…it’s a  new week and new month so there is no excuse to not go for it.

I have a habit or two that need to go, and a habit or two I need to resume.  So today is the day.  But no pressure, right?

The weekend was nice.  I took my fourth unit exam and finished the final paper for my Business Ethics class; I will complete the final exam this week and move on to my next course:  Organizational Theory.  I also finished this crocheted blanket shrug (mine has no fringe).

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Yesterday I washed bed linens as I always do on Sundays, but I also washed our down alternative comforter and dried it on a clothesline out back.  The natural fragrance that saturates fabrics dried this way is intoxicating.  I slept like a baby last night.

Out back, the fuchsia will soon bring forth its blooms and the hummingbirds will become frequent visitors; this plant is right outside our back patio door so we have the perfect viewing spot.

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This crazy flower is already blooming; Jessica gave me a packet of seeds during an Oregon trip last year and I randomly threw them into this wine barrel.  The California rains came and a whole lot of weeds grew up in the barrel.  Tom (with his green thumb) spotted these two among the weeds and cleaned everything up so this is all that remains. These are some kind of day lily and I’m not sure that these are the Oregon flowers but no matter…a happy surprise anyway.

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Today’s lesson in Entrusted focused in on 2 Timothy 3:6-9; the passage that illuminated like a neon sign for me were verses 6 and 7:

“For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

Oh snap.  Oh crap.  The “among them” are the people who, in the last days, are lovers of self and money; proud, arrogant, abusive people; ungrateful, unholy, and heartless people; those with no self-control; brutal people; conceited people; lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; and those “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power”…among those kinds of people are those who prey on the weak (not necessarily just women).

But I think our own lack of self-control, our own desire for pleasure, our own arrogance and pride lead us astray more often than an actual person.  I know that’s true for me.  While there was a time in my life that I was easily captured and led astray by the influence of others, these days I’m more apt to quietly look like I’m doing just fine but secretly relying on unhealthy ways to cope.

May is bringing forth a rough month of upheaval and the beginning of change in a significant area of my life, and I need to be strong.  I’m preparing for it by strengthening my healthy habits and starving the unhealthy ones.  Good food, exercise, and restful sleep are in order.

Join me in making May the beginning of healthy changes?

Have a blessed week.

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Family Ties

It’s been too long since I sat down to write, even though I sit at my desk at home every day for at least an hour or two.  I busy myself with studying for my latest Master’s class (Business Ethics) or with my  latest Bible study (Beth  Moore’s Entrusted) and, of course, with other important pursuits (Facebook and Twitter).  And I always make time for a rousing game of Spider Solitaire.  Lately thoughts have been swirling and marinating and since I’m not really a talker (though some people close to me might disagree!), those thoughts need to be expressed somehow…thus, I know it is time to write. On Twitter the other day this is what Anne Lamott had to say, in response to someone’s question about how to get started as a writer:

“Decide to.  Sit down @ desk.  Keep butt in chair.  Share a memory or description.  Write an unbelievable shitty first draft.”

Thank you, Anne.  I shall follow your advice.

This guy hangs from my desk lamp as a reminder to write.  He’s been giving me the stink eye lately.  Am I right?

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So today, I write.

March was very busy.  We bought a new car and then promptly racked up some miles by heading to Twentynine Palms to attend our oldest granddaughter’s 7th birthday party. We got to see, firsthand, the life our son is building for himself following a divorce he did not want.  He’s established a comfortable home where his kids spend time with him daily, and he’s established a very good co-parenting relationship with their mom.  There is no better feeling for a parent, than knowing that your kids are doing okay.  Here is a picture of the lovely birthday girl with Chuck E. Cheese and her proud daddy looking on:

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Here I am, with Amelia and Tom, in the backseat of said new car.  We were on our way to the birthday party.  Never mind that my ass was wedged snugly between two booster seats…spending time with these two makes my heart very happy:

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We returned home on a Sunday, worked two days and then boarded a plane to Eugene, OR the following Wednesday.  I last visited Jessica and family in December when the crazy ice storm hit Eugene.  I’d never seen anything like it, but I digress…I no sooner returned home from that trip before Jess and I started planning the next trip.  I traveled alone in December as Tom had too many work demands.  Thanks to a bounty of United air miles, we were able to book round trip air tickets for two, only paying tax, so the March trip was a go.  Seeing Tom with our grandsons kind of made me fall in love with him again.

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While there, Braydon and I planted a little flower garden for their patio.  Jess sent a picture the other day to show me that the flowers were still alive and thriving.  Even though they’ve been in Oregon for over a year now, I know my girl misses me.  We have our next trip planned for September–it will be a week long road trip.

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We returned from Oregon late on a Sunday; we’d both taken Monday off to recuperate but decided to do a bit of yard work, as recent rains and subsequent sun had brought weeds out of hiding.  The weather was nice so I put on a tank top and jeans and went to it.  At one point Tom pointed out what he thought to be poison oak growing by our backyard gate.  Nah, I thought.

I am very allergic to poison oak.  VERY.

You can guess what happened.  It’s been four weeks…one steroid shot…a course of Prednisone…lots of Caladryl…several tubes of Hydrocortisone…and I’m STILL dealing with a few remnant patches of poison oak breakout.  I’ll spare you the pictures but yes I took some…just in case I forget how bad it actually got!

Yard work will be done by someone other than me from now on.

I’d promised our local daughter Amy and her family that we’d have them for Sunday dinner so I could make homemade pizza (completely homemade crust and sauce and with all our favorite gourmet toppings) but with my poison oak-covered hands, that just didn’t seem like a good idea.  We had some nice weather and Tom took the opportunity to barbecue baby back ribs which in my opinion was a very good alternative.  Seeing little miss Aislee put a big smile on my face:

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This girl is something else.  She is happy, loving, and as sweet as can be.  We think she might be almost ready for a sleepover with Nana and Papa.  I can’t wait.

I’m hoping that tomorrow we can finally get around to that pizza dinner.  Amy and I have plans today to go to the movies to see Beauty and the Beast, just the two of us. Time with my own baby daughter is another thing that makes me smile.

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I think that catches us up on family life around here.  But something interesting happened recently that has me thinking more deeply about family ties.  I received a Facebook friend request from someone I didn’t know; we didn’t share any mutual friends either, so I was hesitant to accept the request.  As I looked at her name, an unusual name, I wondered if she was a cousin on my dad’s side of the family.  Sure enough, that was the case–she’s the daughter of my dad’s sister.  In accepting her friend request, I’ve now connected with both of her sisters, and with other cousins (daughters of my dad’s other sister).  Many memories, long buried, are surfacing as we share pictures and a bit of our family history.  I am excited to see where these relationships lead.  But I’m also a bit nervous.  I’m learning things that are troubling, such as the fact that all three of my dad’s sisters have Alzheimer’s or other dementia diagnoses.  My grandma, their mother, died of Alzheimer’s.  My dad died at age 60 of lung cancer.  I can’t help but wonder if he would have developed dementia if he’d lived long enough.  One of his brothers is in a nursing home here in California, and I’m not sure if he’s dealing with dementia (but plan to find out).  My dad’s youngest brother lives here locally and I occasionally run into him in town.  He seems fine…when I last saw him he was astonished by how much I favor my mom.  I think it was very odd for him to see me as a middle-aged woman!

These new family ties are stirring up memories for sure.  I’ve long had the bare bones of a memoir in progress but I seem to get blocked when it comes to writing about my childhood; it feels like I don’t want to go there.  Perhaps these new relationships will fill in gaps and serve to override some fear I have about revisiting some of the really tough memories that shaped who I am today.

Cousins, if you are reading this, I am SO GLAD to get to know you again!

So I’m off now to shower and get ready for this beautiful Saturday.  Have a blessed day!

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When it Rains, it Pours

It is raining in Southern California, folks.  It’s windy and rainy, trees are buckling and flooding is a very real danger in many areas.  The Oroville Dam has been on national news, and thanks to my now-obsessive urge to listen to NPR during my commute I learned a lot about the structural concerns of the dam and the catastrophic potential for loss of life if the spillway fails.  Scary stuff.  Here’s today’s weather report for my  neck of California, which thankfully, is far away from Oroville Dam.

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Remember when I shared about my love of learning?  NPR has truly broadened my horizons.  I’ve never been that interested in politics; of course, I’d educate myself enough to make informed voting choices but not until Donald Trump’s stunning (and very disturbing, in my opinion) victory did I ever feel the need to dive deeper into it.  Now, in an effort to understand what in the hell happened, I’m listening to lots of NPR and actually learning about many other interesting things, such as the story behind American artist Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting, Christina’s World.

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I learned about James Baldwin, the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary film, I Am Not Your Negro.  During my 30 minute commute I learned about his spiritual upbringing and his time as a “boy preacher” and the crisis of spirit he experienced.  I definitely want to know more.

It seems that everywhere you turn these days, politics is in your face whether you want to deal with it or not.  For the most part I do not share my political views on Facebook because, WHY.  I learned about fake news (and it’s not Trump’s definition) from NPR too, which is a real thing and Facebook is full of it. When you see the link to an article that just seems wrong–such as Garth and Tricia’s divorce settlement–and with innocent interest you click it, you helped fund fake news.  Don’t fund and circulate this crap, people!  I for one vow to keep Facebook fluffy and fun by posting cute pictures of my grandkids or delicious dinners at home.  Here’s our Valentine’s Day feast:

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I finally finished the Marketing Management course earning a solid A.  I was given the option to take a challenge exam for the Organizational Behavior course, due to my psychology background and experiential credit because of my work responsibilities.  I’m confident I did well  on that exam too.  While reviewing the text and specifically, a section about the importance of listening, an ironic and funny (to me) example of a notoriously poor listener was included:

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Oh dear.  Who could have imagined the stone-cold mess we’d find ourselves in, circa 2017. “And that’s all I got to say ’bout that” (said in my best Forrest Gump voice).

I am awaiting my next Stitch Fix box with great anticipation.  I gave my stylist free rein to surprise me this month and can’t wait to see what she comes up with.  For my last fix I requested work clothes and received an amazing jacket, black slacks, a beautiful royal blue blouse, and a pencil skirt–all pieces fit perfectly, all pieces fit the criteria of stylish without being too youthful or trying too hard, and most importantly, all pieces would not have been found in stores where I live. Here is a picture of the skirt and jacket which I only share so you can note how cute and stylish and still age-appropriate this outfit is (pay NO attention to the old lady holding the iPhone).

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My disclaimer:  This picture is poor-quality and I am NOT a model and it feels very awkward to take pictures of myself and I can’t promise I’ll ever do it again, but I took this one in my hotel room in Sacramento at the beginning of this  month while on a business trip.

You too can hire a Stitch Fix stylist!  You can certainly Google Stitch Fix and sign up on your own, but if you email me (linabickel@gmail.com)  I can refer you directly which gives me a $25 credit toward my next fix.

My plans for this rainy Saturday include working on week one homework for my current Bible study, which is Beth Moore’s newest offering, a study of 2 Timothy entitled Entrusted.  Grocery shopping is also on my agenda, as is catching up on the latest episode of The Blacklist.  Tom works today so I’ll figure out something warm and comforting to prepare for dinner (and maybe I’ll post a picture to Instagram and Facebook, who knows?).  It’s all exciting, I know.  I hope your Saturday is just as riveting as mine.

Finally, I leave you with this.  Everyone needs a  laughing baby in their life.  This one is ours.

Wishing you a blessed day,

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Lifelong Learning

I am energized by learning new things and this has been true about me as long as I can remember.  When I was old enough to walk by myself to our public library I found a whole world opened up to me, where I could find a book on any topic that interested me and teach myself something new.  I liked (and still like) fiction but my favorite books have always been instructional.  Every week or so I’d check out the maximum limit of 10 books, usually one or two fiction books, a memoir or biography of someone I wanted to know more about, and an armload of books about something I wanted to learn to do.  Through books I taught myself basic ballet poses and moves, yoga, sign language, make up techniques, hair styles, home decorating, how to crochet, knit, macrame, embroider, and quilt, astrology charting, handwriting analysis, shorthand, cooking, poetry writing, many other creative pursuits such as dish gardening, drawing and painting.  Some of these skills I have mastered and some proved to be passing fancies.  I’ve just always believed that I could learn to do anything, given a set of instructions to follow.

The Internet, to me, is the richest and most vast library beyond what my childhood brain could have ever comprehended.  Knowledge is literally at our fingertips.  I was just this morning watching my DVR recording of this week’s episode of The Blacklist and pondering what to make for dinner, given today’s forecast of stormy weather.  In one scene Reddington, while in a restaurant, comments about the exquisite flavors of the Cheeseburger Chowder he is enjoying.  Instantly, my phone is in my hand and I’m googling a recipe for Cheeseburger Chowder because that sounds just like something my husband would enjoy.  Google delivered with a multitude of recipes to choose from.  Dinner dilemma solved thanks to knowledge at my fingertips.

Later in my life, sparked by a brutal season of trial and tribulation, I became an avid student of the Bible and this passion continues today. Hebrews 4:12 says:  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  I have learned more about  myself, others, spirituality, and the mysteries of this world through Bible study.  I have found that at different times of my life, scripture I’ve read over and over will suddenly be illuminated for me, speaking into circumstances I’m experiencing or questions I’m pondering.  My Bible is full of little notes, highlights and under linings. Someday when I am gone, I hope those I leave behind will open my Bible to find comfort and will be surprised to learn something new about what mattered to me.

Currently I am working on my master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.  I am just beginning  my third (of 13) courses, this one in Marketing Management.  I must say, two chapters in and I’m realizing that in my vast array of interests, marketing concepts has not been knowledge I’ve sought out beyond the normal consumer experience.  Perhaps my lack of interest is tied to my shopping aversion?  In any case, of all of my  master’s program topics, this one is the most foreign to me and likely to be most challenging.  Most of the other courses are familiar given my educational background in psychology and my 24 year career in social services of which the last three have been in management.  But I’m on board to learn.

Today I’m spending a stormy day in with this little miss.  As I finish this blog post this is what she’s up to.  I do believe I’m seeing the beginning of her lifelong love of learning.  May it be so!

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