How to Define the Ubiquitous Term “Friend”

What is it that both frees and horrifies me about Facebook?  For me it’s the mirage of faces and personalities that feel real, that Facebook calls my friends.  In some cases they do represent tangible people I see, love, hug, and know.  Sometimes I scrutinize features and wonder if I’ve ever really brushed shoulders with them.

Yet these intangible entities talk to me, correspond with me and are my friends  My Facebook friends.  Let’s not lose the importance of that distinction.  If some of these people lived next store, went to church with me, or had to eat what I fixed for dinner, the friendship might come to a tragic and untimely end.

The term “friend,” since Monica, Ross, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, and Rachel first graced us with the illusion of relationships that seldom exist, has changed.  Dramatically.  The munchkins at my house struggle sometimes in distinguishing the difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend.  A friend, a real honest-to-goodness live and in the person friend, cheers for you, cries for you, laughs with you, and hugs you when the hurt spills over and runs down your cheeks.  I enjoy my online friends, but I hope I never lose perspective on how priceless a friend really is.  The 2018 loose definition imposed by the internet concerns me.

Alma’s death crystallized this important concept for me.  The outpouring of support from friends lifted us and still carries us as we try to adjust to the changing landscape of our lives.  I cherish my friends.  I appreciate my Facebook friends.  I’d love to meet each and every one of them.  And call them friends.

If You Are Breathing, You’d Better Be…

Few things in life are really one and done.  Most professional fields require continuing education for certification.  Even entry level jobs like flipping burgers have bosses that change things around and require adjustment.  In short, if you are breathing, you’d better be learning something!

When I was a teen, I thought my graduation was the end all of great achievements.  Then I went to college.  I figured out very quickly that high school had been a fish bowl preparing me for a full-sized aquarium.  I graduated college and felt elated for about 24 hours.  I worked in an ER and the skill sets of a good ER nurse were not a part of nursing school.  My field required constant education.  Then I changed fields.  Eventually I retired into a whole new world of breathing=learning=income.

It only took me 60 some years to figure out that life=learning.  Stop acquiring skill sets and find yourself kicked to the curb.  Now more than ever, I love to soak up knowledge.  My new book is about to be released and instead of kicking back on a beach enjoying the waves, I spent the weekend at a conference learning how to hone my skills.  Never.  Stop.  Learning.  If you are breathing, you’d better be learning something!

Muted Measures of Success Still Count

What defines success?  Of course, the parameters screamed at us from every street corner and plasma screen do exist for some.  Recognition, prestige, income and influence are the recognized harbingers of success.  Yet talk to the average person, and you find success abounds, measured in muted and sometimes intangible, but nevertheless real evidence.

I am composing this blog at a writing conference, hanging out in the atrium because my roommates include a snorer and an cuddler with a high BMR.  Those are the rules.  I accept them.  I didn’t come to sleep anyway.  I came because I want to hone my craft, and found myself surrounded by published and successful superheroes.  Truth: I feel insignificant when I listen to their chatter.  “My third book in that series, took off like gang busters.”  “I have four different series, and six stand alones.” Authors around me are talking about 6-figure incomes.  Gracious!  I’m struggling to get my first published late in life.  It’s not meant to be a blockbuster.  Spitting out a book a month is downright unfathomable!

Here I sit sipping coffee and penciling my blog, staring at a dark world, wondering if I am a fraud.  Don’t we all at times?believe

The measure of success for most of us isn’t crushed with accolades.  It is freed by the satisfying realization of achieving the inner light driving us.  I connect with people (a few), and lay my soul on the line, literally.  My simple truth gets flung into a universe both made and governed by an awesome God.  Jesus recognizes my own 100% contribution and He smiles at me.  That, my friends, is how I define success.

Look at Jesus today.  Give your all where you are called.  Watch for that grin speaking volumes, a grin more valuable than accolades.

Technology Is Not Your Friend

I know this to be true: Technology is not your friend.  We live in a world drunk with high speed internet, glued to Dick Tracy wristwatches, in love with cell phones tracking us down no matter where we go, and with people standing in line for the newest and best electronic gizmos before they go public.  So enamored with the obvious benefits, we have forgotten a simpler life.  One day you will be forcibly reminded that technology is not your friend.

We used to visit theme parks, split up, and meet every hour at a landmark.  We used to give other people our full attention, without surreptitiously checking a buzz or interrupting the conversation to take an important call.  We used to escape from the grind on vacations, but now the ubiquitous grind goes with us to the beach.  Our once simple lives have become glutted with technology.

Let me just say this:  Technology is not your friend.  One day your trusty cell phone will spiral away, taking 3000 of your favorite photos with it.  Your laptop will flash the blue screen of death at the most inopportune time.  You back it all up, you say?  So you willingly broadcast your life into the great void for who knows what nefarious person to examine and target?  Seriously?  Why not just invite the hacker into your living room?  Oh wait, you already did that.

The worst case scenario? Read One Second After.  A simple act of war can take us all back to a humbler, simpler time, where an unprepared people will kill each other without an enemy needing to waste a bullet.  After all, why decimate the land with toxic nuclear waste, when you could just as easily walk in and inhabit the homes, stores, farms and infrastructure already prepared for you?  Only a few would survive this scenario. Take time now to put those pesky electronics in their place.  Trust me.  Electronics are not your friend.

How To Preserve Your Legacy

Keeping a journal serves as a catharsis for me, a way to contemplate life’s events and make sense of life’s experiences, deal with angst.  But that’s not why I write.  Within each of us exists a legacy of memories, recipes, tips and stories crying out for expression.  A sad generation glued to cell phones and Google tidbits for news will one day wish they’d plumbed the well of life experience you carry…and if you write it down, they’ll be able to do just that!  To encourage you, let me share one of my children’s memories.

Fall brings to a close one of my favorite things, so I’ll share a memory fitting the season:

Blue Blood and True Blue

dedicated to Levi

Only Levi shares my passion for royalty.  Far from our humble home and beneath a clear sky, the pageantry begins:  emblazoned symbols, a regal crown and a banner unfurled in the breeze herald the festivities.  The music starts and we involuntarily rise.  Yes, I’d say we’re impressed by royalty.

The lives of the royal family fascinate us.  We cheer their successes and anguish over their defeats, loyal to the end.  We scour the paper for news, and if the press maligns them, we scream, “Foul play!”  Royal names and titles slide easily into our daily conversations.

“Chico’s got a hot bat today, doesn’t he?”

“The Hammer hit another two run homer!  His fourteenth!”

“Monty’s arm sure looks better, and his speed’s up, too!”

Yes, we love those Royals, win or lose, strike or no strike.  It just comes naturally.  My mom never missed a game.  Crippled, she rallied behind the Royals (and the Athletics before them) by radio and television.  Many of my fondest memories include these vicarious friends.  Our favorite Sunday afternoons found us ruminating on the Sunday puzzle, sharing a ball game, a quiet peace between us.  As she lay dying in the ICU, my brother and I stood by her bed, willing her to survive.

“You’ll get better, I”ll get you a Frank White baseball,” my brother promised her.

She laughed.  “What are you going to do? Walk up to his front door and ask him to sign it?”

“If that’s what it takes,” he shot right back.

Well, we started laughing.  We laughed so hard the monitor went berserk and nurses poured into the room to examine her, staring reprovingly at us for administering the best curative of all, love and laughter.  That Frank White baseball lived with my brother until his death, a reminder of the that love we shared.  Fast forward seven years.  Lounging in her favorite rocker, my youngest son now shares the legacy, laughing with each hit or stunning double play.

Home schooling is so much more than books and lesson plans.  Tucked away in the heart of home education is the matrix of shared fun.  The sterile schoolroom, inhabited through business hours Monday through Friday, feels poor and bereft when its lifeblood leaves for home each day, just as learning feels strained in its strange environment.  At home, where we live our learning and our joy, lessons come much more freely, built on a foundation of baseball, firelit nights and the many other pleasures we share together.  Those golden moments set the stage for the lesson plans and written assignments our public counterparts formalize as education.  Without them, learning loses its sparkle.  So, bring on the good times!

Here, we savor the sweeps and hope for at least a wild card slot in the pennant race, and study baseball whenever possible.  I’ll always miss my mom, but I’m so thankful Levi and I slug away our days like royalty, watching the Royals.

Yes, baseball is drawing to a close for yet another season, but the joy of sharing the Royals is being passed onto another Rhoads generation, and I love it!  Most of all I love saving memories of my children, which their children now enjoy.  Perpetuate the cycle of life by taking pen in hand and writing it down.  Capture your memories and pin them to a page.  Your family will be glad you did.

 

 

 

Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?

People, meaning all of us, you and me, defy easy descriptions.  My oldest son is one I would call an extrovert by every definition.  At the age of 12, if granted any wish for his birthday, his first desire would have been a 12-year-old to live in his room with him.  All the time.  Yup.  An extrovert.aaron

Yet ask him, and he thinks of himself as introvert–a person who recharges his batteries in solitude.  His wife and I laughed at that one, because she and I are on the shy side, and he is anything but shy,  yet it got me thinking.

expoNone of us fit into easy little Facebook icons.  I spent Saturday in one of my side gigs, as a vendor and organizer of a local Expo.  It was demanding.  Lots of little glitches demanded patience, flexibility and ingenuity.  I had to use a microphone and get looked at every so often…me, who hates cameras and mirrors.  I was blessed with a steady stream of shoppers I greeted and blessed to the best of my ability.  I got little to no sleep the night before and spent a long day on my feet, shedding my shoes long before the Expo ended.  Yet I felt energized, not drained.  So am I an extrovert?

Before you decide, know this:  I fail at small talk.  I treasure a few close friends.  Without solitude I get cranky.  I hug the walls at large gatherings.  Yup, I’m a conundrum.  I am an extroverted introvert.  Clear as mud, right?  What is important is knowing yourself.  I believe every single person needs some solitude.  The Psalmist said it best: Be still and know that I am God.  When we live at a frenetic pace without time for reflection, we do ourselves a disservice and lose the grounding that completes us.  Knowing when to be busy and when to stop is crucial for your own mental health.

In a recent discussion at church the whole tension of the Mary/Martha syndrome got a work over.  I would love to be a Mary sometimes, but when the kids all walk in the door, the first question is, “What’s for dinner, Nana?”  Close on its heels comes, “When are we eating, Nana?”   Like all scripture stories, we are given a summary of what took place.  I’m wondering how much older Martha was than Mary.  If Jesus later said, “Help your sister more, kiddo.”  If Martha hadn’t fixed dinner, would He have turned stones to bread? Was there a local catering firm?

Women are called to be Marthas 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Yet they need those Mary moments.  If you are an introvert, you need more Mary moments, and if you are an extrovert, don’t fool yourself.  You still need time for solitude and reflection lest you grow shallow and cold.  The trick is to know yourself.  Know your own warning signals.  Pay attention, and carve Mary moments into your day when you need them.  And if you are a crazy, mixed up extroverted introvert, heaven help you!  You just might be a mess like me, lol.

What is the Best Time of Day?

The kiddos arrive and we always start with prayer.  The best time of day? In theory, yes.  In reality, no.  We talk.  we settle into our routine.  We snuggle through math review.  We have fun over lunch.

But the best part of the day occurs when we don’t DO anything at all.  Cuddling on the couch, playing word games and taking selfies is as important in raising a child as reading and math.  How I pity children locked into sterile classrooms where laughter and tickle bug are edged out by grammar and geography.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in a well-rounded curriculum.  I just believe it should include liberal amounts of love.  One day she will enter formal education, whether it’s next year or junior college, and these days will be the basis of her confidence, her joy, her sense of well-being.  You just can’t buy that with a private school education or mandate it with government regulation.  Too bad.  I think all children need lessons of love extending into their adolescent years.  Even Matthias, a teenager struggling with algebra, enjoys a close relationship.  He’s past tickling, but he still revels in just cuddling up and talking about things.

There exists no greater insecurity than adolescence.  There is no meaner creature than a 7th grade girl, and no rougher environment than a school.  Any school.  Every single youngster struggles to find his/her place, compares his/herself with every other developing student, fears ridicule, and feels inadequate.  At home it’s different.  No one else is the same age, so there’s no comparison except with yesterday’s version of yourself.  No one else stands out as the beauty, the jock, the most popular, the class president–so no child feels less worthy.  These lessons are all learned, but learned at a later time with muted drama.  For now, learning to be the very best person without drama and pressure are paramount.best

The best part of my day results in beefing up security, growing confidence, filling a little soul with love.  Today we played word games theough free reading, took selfies, and enjoyed an extended cuddling session on the couch.  The. Best. Time. of Day.

How To Actually Enjoy Retirement

If you are reading this blog, you’re either thinking about retirement or enduring it.  Either way, read on! Some look at the “golden years” apprehensively, as if any change, even a good one, might be about as enjoyable (or as exciting) as boiled spinach.  Others think they want to retire…until they do.

The change from gainful employment to every day a Saturday impacts your life in several ways:

  • Income changes
  • Health insurance changes
  • Activities of daily living change dramatically

Let’s look at each one.  Income.  Most of us aren’t sure just how much we’ll have at retirement until we actually retire.  Bear in mind that pensions are fixed, and Social Security offers few increases for the AGI.  Guess low.

Medicare requires a translator even for a college-educated health professional.  Find a retirement consultant you like for advice, with prescriptions in hand.  The balancing act of a Medicare Advantage plan is like gambling with a roulette wheel.  You trade lower monthly costs for the advantage of having good health, but one major incident changes your pre-existing conditions and preempts you from a change in plan.  Medicare is not for the faint in heart, no pun intended.  Don’t try to navigate these uncharted waters without guidance.

The infinity of free time holds the key to both of the above. Find meaningful, hopefully profitable ways to employ your time at your own discretion.  I have four side gigs to contribute income, offer me stimulation, and improve my life.  I started with one, of course.  I made glass beads and sold them at trade shows.  China flooded the market with cheap beads and that ended that.  In all honesty, it proved to be very labor intensive, and it probably needed to disappear anyway, much as I loved it  What I discovered is that life is not stagnant.  Your interests change, your energy and health dictate what you can do, and that’s okay.  Now that I juggle four interests, time management requires budgeting my hours, but I’m good with that.  I don’t sit still well anyway.peeking.JPG

The long and short of it is simple.  You spent many a year preparing for a career, and many a year building a career.  Spend some time preparing for and building an enjoyable retirement.  Don’t assume you can retire on Friday and fill Monday with meaningful activity–you can only reorganize your sock drawer so many times.  Closing your eyes and peeking out to see if you’ll like it is not a good retirement plan.  I am finding ways to enjoy this season of my life despite the curve balls and losses, and think that all of us could…with some preparation.  Enjoy your retirement.  Don’t just endure it.

 

A Tribute to the Red, White and Blue

We all bled blue on 9/11. We all know where we were and what we were doing when the towers fell, as Alan Jackson so aptly put it, when the world stopped turning.  The unthinkable pierced us as a nation.  Never again would we live in carefree innocence.  Never again would we look at the world as a place of wonder.  Instead our new world view involves madmen, fanatics and suicidal plots.  Danger lurks in the mundane corners of our lives–train stations, football stadiums, and open air concerts.  On the flip side of that awareness, however, resides a kernel of strength in having been tested and and finding the steel in our people, willing to stand against those threats.

I still feel a thrill of pride for the way our nation pulled together when attacked.  I still feel the sting of loss–for those who lost loved ones, for those whose lives were cut short, for the enormous cost of freedom.  We are not immune to attack, a lesson painfully learned.

719506368_a9d507522e_nWe surrendered precious freedoms in the ensuing years, but I wonder just how secure we really are.  Sometimes I’d like to be a mouse in the corner during top secret intelligence briefings, and then I thank God I’m not.  I suspect we live on a tightrope, never knowing how precariously our illusion of freedom balances on that thin wire.

That illusion we enjoy is a blessing.  The thin veil allows us to sleep in peace at night and is borne by many who pay a high price.  And so I pray for our military, for our Commander-in-Chief, and for our boys in blue. I do my best to live a life worthy of their sacrifice. May God bless the USA.

How to Edit a Manuscript Painlessly

Everyone keeps a stash of wisdom, helpful tips, and great stories tucked into the cockles of their brains and the cubbyholes of their hearts.  A manuscript is the best way to preserve your history, and it’s not that hard.

Either the kids can’t sit still and listen, or the story sounds long and convoluted. or worse yet, the very people who need to hear your words seem disinterested.  It happens.  They think we will live forever.  We lack the vivacity to make it come alive.  No matter the reason, too much vital information gets lost in the process.  Your experience, your stories need to be heard.

A book (novella) preserves all those tidbits and memorializes stories that need to be told.  Take pen in hand and write!  The hurdle so many then face is an unwieldy manuscript needing attention.  Grammatical errors and faux pas need correction and sentences made readable.  No, you don’t have to be an English major for this step to happen.

Enter the editor.  Yes!  Hire an editor to review and format your document.  A good editor tracks suggestions you can accept or reject, and handles rewrites as part of the process of taking your manuscript from your laptop to print.  The first draft of my manuscript languished for a couple years.  I couldn’t find a publisher and I couldn’t find an agent, and I couldn’t see self-printing it without some attention to detail, so it lived on a cold back burner.  My oldest son encouraged me to get it out and get it printed, so I took a second look and hired an editor.  Best. Thing. Ever!book work

Find a listing of editors at http://www.cactusglobal.com.  My own editor has a waiting list, but can be reached at  https://www.facebook.com/christinaschrunk.editor/.  I highly recommend you find someone to help you.  My book should be ready for publication within the month.  It’s a lot easier than you think.