A Land Locked Life with a Beach Girl Heart

The mountains are one kind of beauty and the beach and ocean another kind of beauty and I have been privileged to call them both home.

I am a Flat Lander, a Beach Girl and an immigrant in a state full of mountains, forests and farmlands. There are mountains in Massachusetts, but my whole life until I moved away was in a beach town and occasional sea ports.

I have lived in other states, including Washington State and Florida, Virginia and Maryland. But I have lived in the state of Pennsylvania longer than I have lived anywhere else. Thirty-four years, and counting.

In truth, I was so caught up in the needs and responsibilities of my early life, and single parent years, to notice whether I thought a state was pretty, or anything else, until I woke up re-married and living in south central Pennsylvania, just north of the “Maryland Line.”

I quickly grew to love my new state with its hills, mountains and farmlands. And I loved showing it off to my mother, who was living in Baltimore at the time. Although we were from different states, she too was a “flatlander” and a “city girl.” When she came to visit sometimes I would take her for rides or we would go to York shopping and she never tired of the beauty of the hills and the farmlands. And I never tired of showing it off.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I was struck that first year of the corn harvest, how one could drive all over the local towns in Southern York County, and see cornfields, ripe for the picking, at almost any turn. In an odd way it put me in mind of how at home, in Onset, almost anywhere you turned, you could see the blue of water, or if you were lucky, the maroon velvet of local cranberry bogs; similar, but different.

Cranberry Harvest, Wareham, MA Photo by Esther A. Roe, used with permission.

I had lived in York County for ten years, when we moved to Towanda, Pennsylvania, in Bradford County, nestled in the Endless Mountains. I learned there, that the mountains of York County that I had so admired were hills, in comparison.

My first mountain ever though, was Mount Ranier, in Washington State. I had gone to Tacoma to visit my brother and his family for two weeks in 1969, and stayed for almost a year. I had been in Tacoma for two weeks before I caught sight of Mt. Ranier, which I quickly dubbed, “My Mountain.” Arrogant, but ah youth. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, snow capped, and distant, but visible for miles around, and when I saw it for the first time, I said I never wanted to leave. To learn more about Mt. Ranier National Park, check here: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm

I returned to Onset in November, 1969 and got married the following summer and moved away. In those days, I did not notice the beach. As I said, caught up in my life, starting out, getting married, leaving home, and not really looking back. No forwarding address, no goodbyes. All about me.

In my defense though, when you live some place that draws tourists, whether it is the ocean or the mountains, it can be easy to build up an unintentional immunity of sorts. Or, you are too busy making a living to look up and take it all in. Busy living my teenage life in the bar in the 1960’s, I didn’t notice either.

I returned for a few short visits, my father’s funeral in 1971, which broke my heart. I was one of those girls who thought that their daddy was indestructible. My mother moved back to her hometown of Baltimore two years later and when she passed away in 1994, we took her home to be buried next to my dad, those were my only visits to Onset.

Sometimes though, it takes a tourist, or a newcomer, to notice the beauty that the locals have simply come to take for granted. I traveled to Tioga County, Pennsylvania for orientation at Mansfield University two weeks before our official move and spent the night with a friend and colleague who lived in Potter County. She had moved there in June, but my appointment did not start until September 1st

Folks up there consider it “God’s Country” The Mountains were so huge, and they were everywhere. All I could say was “Oh! Wow!” Then, in wanting to share how beautiful we both found the mountains there, we kept saying we were awed, but felt compelled to spell it (a-w-e-d) to differentiate from being o-d-d. Maybe we were less than convincing, my friend and I.

I still had not gotten over my sense of awe and inspiration when I began to serve the churches I was assigned to serve, a mere two weeks later.

Liberty Corners is the crossroads of a farming community in Bradford County. It sits high up on a mountain. It is a steady climb, to get from the flats up to the church. Some mornings the hilltop would be wrapped in fog, only to come out of the fog or experience the fog lifting. It put me in mind alternately of Brigadoon, or Mt. Horeb, the site of the giving of the Ten Commandments.

As if there wasn’t enough simple beauty in all that, on reaching the top of the hill, with the church sitting perpendicular to the road, one could see through the windows of the church to the mountain that stood on the opposite shore of the Susquehanna River.

Living in Bradford County, and other places I had long ago assumed that a return to my hometown was not in the cards or the realm of possibility. So I did engage in some pretending. After all, just because the ocean or beach does not come near Central Pennsylvania, does not mean there are not waterways. There are lakes, rivers, streams and “cricks” as the locals call them.

Occasionaly when we would visit lakes for fishing and picnics, I would pretend that the wake created by a motor boat was really waves. The lakes I am referring to only allow small electric motors, so, we are talking small waves.

Traveling North of Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River, there was a section that seemed so even, with a gentle curve, that I could pretend that I was on the road by the Cape Cod Canal. I was willing to settle for pretending and acceptance.

That said, no one was more surprised than I, at the tremendous pull the beach and the canal had on me during my return visit in 2018 and subsequent visit in 2019. Some of it, to be sure, was simply reconnecting with home, memories of my parents and growing up there. But it seemed there was something more than memory, sentiment and emotion.

Onset Beach, the beach at Point Independence, Buzzards Bay (the town and the bay) the Cape Cod Canal were so much a part of my early life, but I had pushed them back to the far reaches of my memory. But I continue to feel the compelling tug, the combination of an intense yearning and longing for home that sweeps over me.

I have tried to figure out why that is; is it only emotion and memory, or is it something more? I realize that this may sound like too much introspection and navel-gazing for some. But recently two high-school classmates in different social media posts or conversations said something that struck a chord. They spoke about living far from home in earlier years, and being land-locked. They both spoke of a need to be near the water, and especially after long weeks of lockdown and stay at home orders. I could relate.

Photo by Rob Craig, of Plymouth, MA. Used with permission.

A month ago a friend sent me a video of Mayflower II leaving the Massachusetts Maritime Academy dock in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, traveling through the Cape Cod Canal, on it’s journey to Plymouth. It brought unexpected tears to my eyes. Mayflower II is powered by wind and sail. Moving through the Canal, it was powered by tug boat.

It was impressive watching the sailors climbing the rigging and preparing the sails. There was something about the expansiveness of the Bay, the sight of the ship in full sails that made it seem as though I had been holding my breath for fifty years and didn’t have to hold it anymore.

It is about homesickness, memory, emotion, longing and so much more. It is about identity and a complex understanding of home. In essence though, something about being near the beach, the Bay and the Canal feeds my soul.

This poem is one of several I had to memorize in seventh grade. It too, speaks to that sense of longing and need.

Sea Fever by John Masefield*

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide, Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying. And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover. And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the lock trek’s over.


Mayflower II, photo by Ryan Smith Photography

The mountains are one kind of beauty and the beach and the ocean are another kind of beauty and I have been privileged to call them both home. But I must go down to the sea again. I must.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Sea Fever, by John Masefield, from Salt-water Poems and Ballads by John Masefield, published by the Maximillan Co., NY 1913, p. 55. The Poem was first published in Salt Water Ballads 1902 Public Domain.

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

#Stronger Than the Cookie~ The Journey Continues

It is September 16, 2020 and I am happy to share that I am three months “Stronger than the Cookie, stronger than cake slathered in icing and chocolate candy from the checkout.” If you want to know why this is sharing and not bragging, let me tell you. No where in that statement does it say I no longer desire those things. That might qualify as brag worthy; no, I am simply happy to share it because I am amazed and grateful. It is slow going but 3 months in, I am 20 pounds lighter and still determined.

I wish it was more, but it is true that the older you get, along with other factors, your body works very hard to maintain your weight and losing it is more difficult. Yet avoiding the “near occasion” of things covered in frosting does help.

I am pretty sure I have previously confessed to being a picky eater, from childhood. I am still a picky eater, though I have grown up some. Let me explain. I like Navel oranges, not other kinds. I prefer Macintosh apples and I think that Delicious apples are not. In fact that is what I call them “Not delicious.”

I like to decorate food with strawberries, especially cakes. If there is enough whipped topping I can eat some strawberries, but even a vat of melted chocolate to dip the strawberries in, is not enough enticement for me. I will eat strawberries if there is a sufficient amount of syrup on top of a Belgian Waffle, and strawberry jam is just fine. See what I mean? Picky. Not proud, just confessing.

Boarding School

I went to a boarding school from seventh grade through tenth grade. It wasn’t a luxury school, the nuns saw to our good behavior and we washed dishes, set the tables, and took turns going into the kitchen to bring out the serving bowls and platters. My favorite part? Bread, butter and dessert with every dinner, and dessert with every lunch. And, Sister Mary’s Candy Corner every afternoon. Sister Mary had a large, locked, grey metal cabinet in the corner of the dining room and it was filled with candy, all manner of candy bars. Every day after school, we could buy as much candy as we wanted for a quarter a piece. It is not Sister Mary’s fault that I didn’t have any will power. It is lucky for me that Sister Mary does not live here!

These are the habits I am working very hard to unlearn. And it is happening, bit by bit. One year ago I went on a very special vacation. I stayed in a rental unit with a kitchen, so I could prepare some meals to balance the restaurant meals I wanted to eat (Pizza and seafood). I used frozen dinners, I did not want to spent an unnecessary minute cooking when I could be doing other things, like writing, walking on the beach, drinking in the view etc.

But I also planned my snacks, and they were of the ice cream, pop tart, and sugary variety. This year as I return, ice cream and cookies are not on the shopping list. Instead, I will be taking along low-moisture part skim mozzarella string cheese, unsweetened applesauce, oranges or some apples, some green vegetables and peanut butter. I am committed to this because I still want to eat pizza and seafood.

You might wonder what is so special about pizza, when you can get it pretty much anywhere? It is a good question, with a sentimental answer. The pizza place in question is less than one block from the former hotel, bar and restaurant that my parents owned, and where we lived. It’s not my mother’s pizza. But there is something about the location, the atmosphere and the food that is enough to draw me in: pizza with toppings and sentiment.

Say “Cheese!”

I have to add a cheese story here. When I talk about following an eating plan that fits my life, I like cheese. My husband and I typically have a cheese snack every night. I suppose it can get boring because often times I choose Colby Jack Cheese. it works for me, a one ounce square, though I often want more.

Today I had some errands to run and it was kind of a “keep moving day.'” Before leaving the house I grabbed two servings of string cheese, and ate them in the car on the way to my destination. That was to help me avoid making a serious mistake of the cookie variety. If you get too hungry, it can be easy to make poor decisions. Driving down the road listening to the radio, and nibbling on string cheese, I remember thinking, “This is delicious!” When did that happen? I know that for me, the more I eat foods with a high sugar content, the more I want them and only them. Is it possible that sugar and empty carbohydrates, dulls our receptivity to other foods?

Whether it is every day eating, or eating on vacation, having a plan is crucial. I generally gain about 5 pounds on vacation, but this time potato chips will not be on the menu. I still need to think through carbs, because anything bread, or breaded still appeals to me. Soft bread; fresh out of the oven bread, thick bagels, rolls on a restaurant table with honey butter all require deep thought, but I still operate on autopilot on occasion.

I am working with a program, but like before, I am not writing to promote a program, simply sharing the journey. I hope some of this makes you laugh, while I cringe in the confessional. But I hope it also helps you to see what is possible. I am 70 years old (still shocked by that) and I am not too old to learn, or to change, or to get healthy.

Learning Goals

I love water, if we are talking about my favorite Canal, or beach, or the ocean. But drinking water? I would still rather have mine sweet: hot coffee or iced tea. Still working on that learning curve. Water would be better, but it is seldom my first choice.

The Cape Cod Canal on a beautiful fall day

I eat too fast. While I have done a reasonably good job about being mindful of what I eat, of my food choices, once I have made the decision, I often forget to savor the food. I have even noticed this with ice cream. My treat of choice during these past three months has been an occasional soft ice cream cone. Yet each time, when I finished, I wondered why I bothered, it was gone so fast.

Those are two reasons why this is a journey, and a marathon. For most people who need to lose weight, we want it off fast; I do too, but I want to do this right. For me more than ever, this is not a diet, it is re-forming my eating habits and food choices.

I have been working intentionally to chose foods for every day that I can live with, not special foods to help me lose weight. I find myself eating fewer prepackaged foods and choosing to snack rather than to graze. I know that there are some foods I will put back into my diet when I have achieved my goals, but I will be choosy.

For instance, I miss my nightly Colby Jack Cheese fix, right now I have it several nights, but not every night. I like peanut butter and sometimes if I am hungry, a tablespoon of peanut butter is enough to push away the hungries. I do not know if I will be able to return to my favorite “fluffernutters” or not. (Marshmallow Fluff and peanut butter sandwiches, preferably on soft bread with a cold glass of milk)

Ice cream twice a month, but not nightly. The rest will reveal itself as I continue to work at this. I have met my first goal of twenty pounds, and have pushed that goal back by ten more pounds. Because we shrink as we age, I am 3 inches shorter than I was in my thirties, and that pushes my ideal weight well below a number that I am interested in achieving. But I am not thinking thin, just thinking healthy. When I get to my next goal of ten more pounds, I will move it down by ten pound degrees and do another reset.

My doctor is happy with my progress and determination. I love the fact that my size 2x jeans are baggy and that I have a new (on sale of course) size 14 dress in my closet that fits. I get hungry in between meals, but not ravenous.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Lessons learned

I travel a lot by myself, first for school, and also conferences and other work related events. I have joked for years that I know the location of every fast food restaurant along any normal itinerary. I get tired driving and my “go to fix” for that has generally been fast food chocolate chip cookies. You know what I am talking about right? Especially when they give them to you hot out of the oven and you don’t burn your tongue, but you end up licking melted chocolate off of your fingers? Now I am learning to pack a lunch and some extra snacks. It is working.

I am taking this journey to health seriously and one step at a time, maybe two. I am not altruistic. Do not think for a minute I want to learn to make healthy choices and not lose weight. I want to lose the weight, but I am serious about the health. I am learning, sometimes with every meal what works for me and what does not. Right now that is enough.

When I get to the place where I feel like I have this, I need to invest some serious time in learning about (1) sugar addictions and (2) fats, oil, cholesterol. I think those things will help me make more informed decisions. Now, I am making good choices, but not necessarily understanding why they are good. But for right now, I am also working on not getting overwhelmed. I am focusing on mindful eating, thoughtful choices and maybe the next dress can be a size 12. One meal at a time, one step at a time.

#Stronger Than the Cookie

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Settling into a Schedule (of sorts) with Sheba

**There are two important notes at the end of this post, I hope you will read them:)

UP and at ’em

Sheba has been with us for 20 months now and, according to her records, was six years old on June 25th. I can finally see a discernable routine in our days. You might think after 20 months, it’s about time; but with her background (See Introducing Sheba and Life with a Tentative Dog) patience has been key.

We struggled with housebreaking for eight long months and finally realized that she needed to be walked. Three times a day. We are fortunate to live near a school that many people in the community use for a dog walking park, so much so that our borough has installed dog waste stations at two places along the journey and provide free waste bags.

She is the first dog we ever had that we could not simply put on a tie out rope outside so she could “do her business” and then scratch on the door to come back. She will lay on the grass outside for hours if my husband is working there or if we are both in the yard, but she still will not “go there.” It seems to be holy ground.

But finally, walking her three times day around the school yard and other places has reduced the number of accidents. In fact, thankfully, it has been several months since she has confused the living room carpet with the grass at the school.

Her sort of schedule

Part of the success of this new routine is getting up right away, for me that is 7:30 a.m. retirement standard time, and then grabbing her treats, bag and leash and getting out of the house before she has time to think about it. I am not at my best during that first walk, but there is no time for coffee if I want to keep the house smelling nice. She seems willing enough to come home without dallying, once she has found the absolutely perfect repository and has sniffed enough blades of grass, and other things.

Yet, as soon as we come in the door, she seems to think her breakfast should come before my coffee and depending on my state, I will oblige her. Then, while I am wishing I could go back to sleep, she has curled up into a ball and gone back to dream land, while I make coffee, forage some breakfast and try to not noticeably stagger around the kitchen.

Just chillin’

When I was in seminary and living in a dorm in my early 50’s I used to joke that I wore bangs to cover up the tattoo on my forehead that said “Not a morning person.” But I wasn’t fooling anyone.

Treats and Food

Sheba gets a Denta Stick at noon, or as close to noon as we remember, and seems to be ready for a walk soon after she inhales her treat. Supper is at 5, more or less and she gets a rawhide at 7:30 p.m. She gets her last walk of the day after supper and that seems to be enough to get through the night.

Like many pets, she seems to see herself as a priority and thinks she can tell time. Sometimes she is right on the money, and sometimes it is wishful thinking on her part.

She can be pushy, especially when it comes to wanting her treats; but I can be stubborn. Although I have teased my husband for years that the correct pronunciation of his last name is “Stubbornville” truth be told, I am a bit stubborn too. When she follows me into the office after her post supper walk and starts pushing my hands away from my keyboard, I will not be moved and tell her to lay down. That might net me a glare.

Sort of schedule?

I admit that this sort of schedule is my fault. Perhaps something more regular would be better, but I am not that rigid, nor do I care to be so, but it all seems to fit in and suit.

I talk to the animals

Well, one at a time. When I walk Sheba, I talk to her. I feel like, despite her sense of duty and distraction, this is some good one on one time for us. I praise her of course for doing those good things, but I also just talk with her. I know she ignores me, but I hope that the sound of my voice does something positive. I tell her that we are lucky to have her. Then I say, “who am I kidding? You are lucky to have us.” Both are right, I hope. When she seems anxious, a sudden noise, or the onset of another human being, can be enough to distract her from any productivity, I remind her that I will not let anyone hurt her. I also tell her frequently, that she is a good girl and I am proud of her.

I have seen people walking their dogs with a leash in one hand and a cell phone in the other, and that is their choice and right, certainly. But as much time as I spend on the phone, texting or social media, I feel like this time of walking Sheba belongs to her.

Fear and wariness continues

I took Sheba to the Vet’s office for a technician visit. While we waited, and there was not much going on in the office, she backed up, partly under the chair next to me and shook. Now, I realize no smart animal likes going to the vet, indignities of all sorts can and do happen there. But she shows that type of fear, when the neighbor dogs bark. She has learned to lead me out of the way, in order to avoid walking in front of the offending dogs’ house. She will pull me to the back yard and around the side of our house, rather than walk in front of theirs.

She has the same general reaction to men, boys and children and when the football team starts to practice and suit up across the street at the school, walking Sheba will be a little more challenging, though not impossible. It simply makes me sad.

In twenty months, I have only heard her bark twice at most. She does bark gently in her sleep, but all the neighbor dogs who bark, she will not bark back. I admit I am grateful, but when I mentioned this to the receptionist at the vet’s office the other week, she said, “you don’t know what her previous owners did to make her that way.” And it makes me wonder as well, though those are answers we will never have. How much fear or pain has to be instilled in an animal to make it stifle instinct?

No ma’am, I am not going to look at you.

Camera shy

Unlike human toddlers and babies who quickly warm up to having their pictures taken, even to the point of posing, Sheba will not cooperate. But I have taken a few candid shots for this post. I wish I could show you a video of her running around the house or jumping up half in the air, seeming to have springs on her front paws, bouncing up and down when I come home from being away, or when my husband or I say those magical words, “Sheba, do you want to go for a walk?” Or pictures of her stretching out her long, lean body as she puts her front paws on the porch railing to crane her neck at the latest sound to catch her attention. But those shots or videos could never happen if she saw the camera or the phone, as you will see.

Bedtime Ritual

Because, as far as we know, Sheba lived her first four-and-a-half years in a crate, we are grateful that she willingly gets in her crate, when we are going out or when it is time for bed. There are sometimes she tries to pretend she is invisible or deaf, especially during the day, but usually she will go right in. Sometimes she goes in without being told because she “reads” the signs, car keys in hand, jacket grabbed of the back of the chair, etc.

When it is bedtime she still races ahead of me and turns around on the landing to look at me and to make sure that I am following. If the doors to our room and her crate are open, she generally goes right in, even before I get to the room. I pet her and tell her that she is a good girl. I put my hand under her chin, because she seems to like that, and I tell her that I love her and close the crate.

I have written posts about all of our dogs, but since Sheba is the current pet, it is easier to recall the myriad things she does. There are times when missing Misty, our beagle who died October 27, 2018, just sweeps over me and catches me off guard. Then I think when the time comes to say goodbye to Sheba (hopefully many years from now) it will be the hardest. Because of all four of our rescue dogs, Sheba is the one that is most mine and has stolen my heart.

Granted, I have used a lot of anthropomorphic language in telling this story (language that ascribes human characteristics or tendencies to non human entities), but in my defense, Sheba is only human after all.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

A celebration: This is the 50th post in The Beach Girl Chronicles, I will keep writing, I hope you will keep reading and sharing! Thank you for following this site, or reading on Linked In or my Facebook Page, Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles.

A BIG Thank you to Sue and Leanne who have hosted the Mid-Life Share the Love Link Party (#MLSTL) and are ending that party with this weeks contributions. Thank you for the welcome you have extended to me as a new blogger, and for your encouraging words. I have made many wonderful connections with other bloggers through this link party and am grateful to you both. Wishing you both success and joy as you branch out in other areas. Michele

Lessons I am Learning in my Cookie-less Life

The Cookie Diary, Part II

For any who are interested, it is almost 2 months (on August 16th) since any cookies or candy bars have crossed my lips. The score is: Me 1, cookies and candy bars 0. # Stronger than the cookie!

Full disclosure, I have had 2 homemade brownies (not in the same week) and some store bought Angel Food Cake. (All fat, calories and carbs accounted for). So, I thought I would share some of the lessons I am learning, as I try to journey to a healthier me.

One important disclaimer, I am not a dietician, or nutritionist, nor am I writing to promote any specific weight loss program or strategy. I am simply writing to share my experiences in the hopes that it may provide some inspiration to anyone who, like myself, has struggled with weight and weight loss and self-image.

One of the biggest things I learned, that I shared in https://michelesomerville.blog/2020/07/21/the-cookie-diary/The Cookie Diary, is my surprise that it is possible to eat a meal and feel satisfied and not run into the kitchen, or the cookie closet for a pair of cookies.

Okay, I am exaggerating a little bit. I do not now, nor have I ever had a “cookie closet.” Remember, I like my cookies to have friends. I didn’t realize it was possible to walk away from the table and be content.

This insight may surprise some readers who may not have battled with weight gain or have always known that it was possible to leave the table and not want more. However, I am pretty sure that cookies, cakes and other sweets have the same affect on a person with sugar addictions that salty snacks have on someone who is drinking in a bar. The treats are generally free, because you will want to drink more. And they want that too!

“Snowballs” cupcakes totally covered in frosting and rolled in coconut.

I have found that eating sugary, wonderful foods has often, if not always, made me want more. Perhaps worse, when I was out of anything sweet enough at home to satisfy that desire, I knew that I could get cranky.

It is not that I am not enjoying snacks now, but am being more choosy and mindful about them.

Speaking of mindfulness, that was my second lesson learned. Even though I often measure side dishes at dinner, I was not counting, tracking, measuring or any other way limiting what I ate at other times. While I would not normally have potato chips, ice cream and cookies all in the same day or snack time. I was just not paying attention. I am now.

One thing I have found really helpful is planning ahead. Knowing what we are going to or may have for supper (I still think of it as dinner, maybe it’s a Massachusetts thing!) helps me decide how I want to spend calories on breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Time is not the only thing that is like money, so are calories. If you limit the number and quality of your calories, you are likely to spend them more carefully and maybe even have a few left over at the end of the day!

I have not pushed myself to starvation, or not eaten until I was at the point that anything was fair game. But it has proven to be important to let myself feel hunger, without rushing to a quick or emotional fix. Part of that has been asking myself questions like, ‘What is going on right now? What am I feeling? Is this really hunger, or is it something else, like sadness, frustration, or hurt feelings, to name only a few possibilities.

Are there cookies in my future? or, Will I ever eat cookies again?

I ask myself these questions from time to time, along with other cosmic questions, like “What is it like to not have your thighs touch?” I think there will be cookies in my future, but while I can say I am #Stronger than the cookie, right now there are no cookies in the house (not the kind that I like) and I am not ready to have them here.

I still have to deal with the question of addiction. But I have put that on the back burner, while I simply concentrate on choosing wisely, weighing and measuring and counting and otherwise carefully calculating. I am eating foods I would normally eat, except of course foods that are dripping with melted chocolate, slathered with icing or simply laden with chocolate chips.

I could eat them, but it would be self defeating at this point. When I can figure out the addiction, when I can get to the point of occasionally enjoying those treats without eating them up until they disappear, then; maybe.

If I can enjoy a few Christmas cookies by Advent, that would be great. But right now, I would rather have a homemade cranberry scone that I can take out of the freezer, warm up in the microwave and savor. But I am not there yet, either.

Flaky, buttery homemade cranberry scones

If you can’t tell yet, I love carbs and next to cookies, cake with frosting, lots of frosting, bagels are one of my preferred carbs. The fact that I have limited my intake of bagels to smaller ones or half of my favorite Thomas’ Bagels (you know the ones with 50+ carbs per serving) is a measure of my commitment.

I went to a local farmer’s market this morning and they had an entire table of my favorite things, breads, for instance. The only way I like zucchini is in bread. They had cookies, chocolate chip were the ones I noticed, but I looked over that table and said to myself “hmmm, no thanks.” Do you hear the pride in my voice? Pride, they say, “goeth before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

In the corner of the table, there was a tray of four doughnuts with piles of swirly pink frosting on top; they might have been calling my name, but I covered up my ears and darted away. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about them. With a cold glass of milk, or fresh hot coffee.

I want to say again, that I think all of the health related blogs I have read by blogger friends, who run, jog, workout, ride bikes, eat carefully, have been at least a subtle influence in my determination.

I have lost 12 pounds since my last cookies and I don’t aspire to be thin, just healthier. Anything less than a size 16 would be terrific.

Even now, with maybe 15 pounds to go, I finally like what and who I see in the mirror. I do hope all this self-disclosure, with a side order of humor, will be helpful to someone.

#Stronger than the Cookie

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

On Prayer and the Spiritual Life

To say that I want to talk about prayer, does not mean that I am bragging, or saying that I am an expert at prayer. I want to share with you a gift that a mentor had passed on to me, that has been life affirming and faith shaping for over 22 years of my pastoral journey.

But first, a few things by way of introduction and one that may shock you. For clarity’s sale, I will say that I am talking about Christian prayer and sharing my personal experience (and opinion).

Here is the possible shock, I might as well “rip the bandage off” now and you can decide whether or not to stick around for the rest of the story.

I went to Catholic kindergarten and there were both Catholic kids and Protestant kids in that class. When we began to learn The Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer), I said the words that I heard, which were “psss psss, psss, psss, psss” Somewhere along the line I must have learned the actual prayer.

I went to public school after that and this was the 1950’s, 1956 to be exact. My teacher, Mrs. Ellis, read from the Bible and led us in the Lord’s Prayer, but it had that different ending (For thine is the kingdom, etc, and I found that very confusing).

To be honest the whole thing, the Bible reading and the prayer felt awkward, and I felt out of place in ways that my first grade mind could not express.

For that reason, and a few others that I will share, I am not a fan of “bringing back prayer in public schools.”

Now, all the people who know me and know that I am a pastor, may have already left the room. I am hoping that wasn’t a door I just heard slam. Bear with me, please. Because there are important questions and considerations that follow.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

First of all, whose prayer? Christian prayer? Jewish Prayer? Muslim? Buddhist? Other types of prayer? And who is left out and made to feel strange and awkward when their tradition is ignore, or belittled?

I am not opposed to prayer in public schools because I am afraid of offending anyone, but because I think it can cause more confusion than it helps.

We put more than enough on teachers and this heavy lifting, I believe, belongs to family homes and houses of faith. This is no time to be passing the buck, er, responsibility.

Second, I certainly believe that God hears our prayers and hears the prayers of children, but I also believe that prayer is meant to be a two way conversation, that is built on a relationship with God. For that reason, I think it needs to begin and be formed at home and church, synagogue or mosque, or run the risk of being watered down and uninformed.

Photo by Michael Scott from Pexels

A lot may depend on one’s definition of prayer. I had an Anthropology professor in college, who stated that prayer for Christians “is asking for stuff, or asking for something.” Her implication was that non-Christians tend to be more spiritually minded and thus she saw Christian prayer as limited.

I wanted to argue with her, but I did not for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she was speaking to her own experience of Christians and Christian prayer. Even though I disagreed with her definition, I could not devalue her experience. Because she was referring to her experience, and because she was the professor and I was a new forty-something year old college student, I was not sure I would be heard, and arguing about religion serves no one. (In my opinion).

Despite the tradition of separation of church and state, you may be surprised to find a good bit of prayer language in our court system, but it is not what you may think. To petition the Court, or to make a prayer in a document, is simply formal language that does “ask for something.” Perhaps the professor had a point.

The flip side of this, and it is kind of funny; I was in college to complete work on my Bachelor’s Degree, so I could go on to seminary, I was serving three churches as a pastor. In church, everything begins with prayer, council meetings, Sunday School, church suppers, and of course Sunday worship. It felt really odd to be in classes at the university and not begin with prayer!

There is a lot of prayer that occurs on the campuses of our colleges and universities, during the high holy days of exam weeks, but of course, that is different. When I got to seminary, there were lots of opportunities to begin classes with prayer.

The Gift of Prayer

It was during those days in college, as I tried to find a sense of balance, that a mentor introduced me to the concept of journaling prayer. She shared with me a book that had been published posthumously by the writer’s son. It was a book of prayers, letters that his mother had written to God.

I have never successfully journaled or kept up with a diary, but this appealed to me. All I remember of the original book was that the prayers were in the form of letters to God, so that is what I do. I have developed my own pattern, that I will share with you, but there are no real rules that I know about.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

I use ordinary, inexpensive (read cheap) composition notebooks. I write my name on the outside cover with the words “Confidential Prayer Journal” and the start date. When I finish that book, I add the end date and grab a new journal. Because I have been doing this a long time I do try to buy Composition books with different colored covers, just for variety.

Now and then some helpful person gifts me with a more formal journal and I say thank you and use it, but the Composition books stack more easily. I generally keep the most recent journals, in my office, the rest are stacked on a shelf in my clothes closet.

I have always felt that I can say anything in these journals and that is very freeing. Since it is prayer, and not a diary, I try to do the following:

Every new prayer begins with the date written out, no numbers and slashes. The next line always says, “Dear God” because that is how I generally address God.

I believe that it is prayer, and that God reads as I write, or hears. I do not know how God does what God does during prayer. I am just responsible for my part. Even though I feel that I can say anything, including question, complain, express doubt, anger and frustration, because it is God I am speaking to, I keep all that respectful.

I do not abbreviate or use acronyms. Does God know what all that means? Of course, but I am writing a letter, a prayer, not a memorandum or a shopping list. I try to begin with thanksgiving and I try to be specific. Every day when I pray, among other things, I thank God for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.

If I have to interrupt my prayer, I say, or, write, “excuse me.” and return as soon as I can. When I first started writing my prayers, because they were in the form of letters, I always signed them, Love, Michele. Eventually I stopped doing that, because, well, God knows it is me. But there is something comforting about the form and format of a letter and it seemed…thoughtful and personable.

While this is not the only way I pray, it does make up the majority of my prayer time. I am not very good about praying in the same time and place every day, so there are times that I add the time to the date. For instance, if I have let my day get away from me and don’t sit down to pray until 11:35 p.m. I write that in.

While this form of prayer will not work for everyone, if you are feeling stuck in a rut in your prayer life, it might be helpful. There are other things I do to keep my prayer life fresh, but this has become a meaningful practice for me.

If prayer is a regular and important part of your life, how has the form of that prayer changed over time? Do you have favorite ways to pray?

Remember, nothing is written in stone, except The Ten Commandments!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

I love this sign. Prayer is action, but we have to do our part!

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Bridges

As a beach girl, I will admit that I have a fascination/fear relationship with water, especially storm water. In a related way, I have a love/hate relationship with bridges. Perhaps it is not so much hatred of bridges, as it is a fear, or wariness of them.

I don’t think there is anywhere one can travel without having to cross bridges of one sort or another, though I would be happy to simply travel on good old fashioned flat land. My love/hate relationship with bridges also extends to highway overpasses. I tend to look up briefly, before I drive under them. Call me neurotic, it’s been done before; call me “Chicken Little” though it’s not worry about the sky falling that makes me look up.

picture of a park next to the Cape Cod Canal, blue water, blue sky, with the Sagamore Bridge in the distance.
Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

I saw and loved bridges, before I ever learned to fear them, or more appropriately fear being on them. The three bridges that cross the Cape Cod Canal (more later) and the Old Stone Bridge that crosses the water between Point Independence and Onset were the backdrop of my every day life growing up. Those bridges spell home to my heart, in ways that are both profound and mysterious to me.

My first lesson in fear, came late one night, in the back seat of a 1954 Chevy Belair, where I was supposed to be sleeping. (This was decades before seat belts, car seats and other such safety measures). My mother was driving us to New York, or Baltimore, I am not sure and my brother was in the front passenger seat. He was about 12 (plus or minus) and I was 6 (plus or minus). We were crossing the George Washington Bridge. My brother raised a question I never wanted to think about, ‘What happens if the bridge collapses?” “Oh, Steve,” my mother said, “we’d be killed.”

Thanks! A lot!

Not all bridges inspired that kind of fear in me. When making the trip to Baltimore from Massachusetts, the approach to and crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge was always a welcome sight. On the way to Baltimore, it meant we were getting closer to seeing family. On the way back from Baltimore, it meant our journey home was underway.

And then, there is “Dummy Bridge” in Onset that had a message all it’s own, although it was more like a song. It was an open grate bridge, that has since been replaced with normal road material. But I loved the sound the bridge made when the car passed over the grates, a humming, whirring sound that I assume was a combination of the speed of the car, the tires, the air through the grates. It was a short bridge, so it was a short song.

Residents of Towanda, Pennsylvania may, on any given day, cross two different bridges to cross the Susquehanna River, a winding river to be sure. The Route 6 Bridge, that joins Towanda with the “Golden Mile” of Wysox is heavily traveled. It is not unusual to be stuck on the bridge, waiting for the traffic light to change. We haven’t lived in Towanda for many years; but, I always found the vibrations caused by the traffic moving in the opposite direction slightly unnerving.

The Bridge that cemented my experience of fear (I could say no pun intended, but that would be a lie, all of my puns are intended) was the (almost) 24 mile bridge that crosses Lake Pontchartrain in Louisana, from New Orleans, to the other side of the lake. Here is an official link of information. https://www.thecauseway.us/ I was traveling with a friend’s two sisters, we were going to a retreat on prayer. Perhaps the real retreat happened on the bridge.

The driver missed her turn to the retreat center, or we would not have even ended up in New Orleans, let alone had to take that bridge. But we did. And it was dark, and my friend’s sister who was not driving, was hysterical. “What if a barge has knocked into a section of the bridge and we end up in the lake?” “We’re going to die!” Not once, but over and over through all twenty four miles.

I admit, she had me convinced or at least unnerved. In truth, I wasn’t sure if I should cover my eyes, or my ears. I shut my eyes, could not have seen anything happen anyway, and prayed. For all twenty four miles. Before you ask, this was decades, decades before people knew about a thing called a G.P.S.

So with this history of fear of bridges, or at least a disdain of them, imagine my surprise in 2018, when I caught my first glimpse of the Sagamore Bridge, that crosses the Cape Cod Canal near the mouth of the canal that opens out to the Bay. My heart seemingly leapt to my throat, I was pretty sure that is what that lump in my throat was; salt water spilled from my eyes.

Everything in me wanted to stop, and I could not. There was traffic behind me, there was no place to pull over, it was raining, my poor confused husband was sitting in the passenger seat, no doubt thinking, “What the____?” I could not speak. Because it seemed as though the bridge was speaking, and it said one word. “Home.”

Even writing this, the salt water brims in my eyes.

Picture of a black marble sign for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, next to the Canal, with the railroad bridge in the distance.
You can see part of the Rail Road Bridge in the background.

I had much the same reaction, a few miles down the road, when I passed it’s twin, The Bourne Bridge and still had to keep pressing on. I drove on past the amazing railroad bridge, a very special elevated train bridge that crosses the canal.

I passed the new to me, entrance to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. We were heading to Onset, with little time to spare, and then on to Middleboro to check into our hotel.

I am not alone in my love of the Canal and it’s bridges. One of the many things I have come to appreciate about my classmates as I get to know them in a whole new way, is that many of them also bear a deep appreciation and fondness for home and the many riches of life near or on the Cape, including the sights and sounds of home.

Picture of the Bourne Bridge that crosses the Canal, rocks that line the canal and 4 birds in the water.
The Bourne Bridge, photo by and courtesy of Scott Stevenin, posted in the Bourne Photography Group

One friend introduced me to a Facebook page titled, “Bourne Photography” where many local photographers post amazing and sometimes daring photos of the canal, the boats that pass through it, the bridges, at all times of day, colorful, gorgeous pictures. There are other pictures as well, and not just bridges, so if you are on Facebook, give it a “look see.”

Much to my regret, there was not enough time to return to the canal that trip, and it was rainy much of that day and the next. I had to hope that I could come back sometime. When I was able to return home to Onset in 2019, for a much longer visit, I went to the Canal every chance I got. Once again, it was as if the bridges could talk, this time it was The Bourne Bridge. And what did it seem to say? “We are a part of you too!” Ah, sentiment!

You probably could not tell, but I cannot wait to go back and am hoping, maybe against hope, that I will still be able to go this year. If not, I certainly hope for one more trip, at least. I do not know how much longer I will be able to make the trip, afford the trip, or feel physically up to the journey. But I feel a little like a homing pigeon at this point, or some creature with a homing beacon planted firmly in its breast.

What happens when the time comes that I am not longer able to make the trip? I hope I will have enough pictures and stored memories to last my lifetime, but I do not know how I will feel. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

A crisp fall day on the Onset Pier

The Cookie Diary

I love desserts, the sweeter, creamier, richer, or more chocolaty, the better. I prefer frosted cakes or cookies with a little something extra. Cookies should be chewy, but not crunchy, and accompanied by cold milk or hot coffee.

My mom was a good cook and I have a very early memory of her decorating a birthday cake for me when I was, perhaps four years old. What I remember about the cake was that the frosting was a satiny white, and she decorated it with a blue border and pink flowers. That was forevermore my favorite birthday cake. Her favorite cake was a white cake with white frosting and covered in coconut. Yum.

I don’t remember her making cookies very often, although I remember her delicate thin sugar cookies at Christmas time, cut out with the red plastic cookie cutters or aluminum cutters that were popular in the 1950’s (perhaps earlier). And she made chocolate and vanilla pinwheel cookies for Christmas as well. I make them too, on occasion, but they are a lot of work. I don’t remember her making any more varieties of Christmas cookies than that, or any large quantities.

My Aunt Millie on the other hand, when we visited her house at Christmas time, the top of her buffet was lined with trays and dishes filled with decorated cookies and chocolate candies, as well as a variety of mixed nuts and mints. I always admired the variety and quantity of the spread she put out. I never did succeed in copying that though, because in my house, the kids and I could eat up the cookies as fast as I could make them. So, there were never batches of anything to lovingly display.

My fascination (read: addiction) for chocolate chip cookies began at a neighbor’s house. Once my mom asked Linda if I could stay with them for a while. While I was there, Linda made chocolate chip cookies, the first I ever remember. Oddly, I don’t remember eating the cookies, but I do remember the making. I remember my first taste of creamed butter and sugar, before adding in the other ingredients, the look of the light brown cookie dough and the chocolate chips being poured from the bag into the bowl and stirred into the dough. I may have been marked for life at that point!

a kindergarten graduation picture of me, 1955
My Kindergarten graduation picture 1955 (not fat, just chubby)

With that brief history of baking, it should come as no surprise that I have struggled with my weight most of my life. I don’t think I was fat in High School, but I probably had about 15 pounds over many of my classmates. My weight went up after my first marriage and I got what turned out to be some bad advice about using salt tablets when I lived in Florida.

If it wasn’t the salt tablets, it was probably mindless eating in response to stress. I did not understand at the time that cake was a poor substitute for coping mechanisms. Truth be told, cake was my coping mechanism. From high school forward, if things were tough, I would bake. But unless you can give the baking away, you eat what you made. One slice at a time.

picture of a cake with fruit on top and white icing on a silver foil base

I have successfully lost major weight (over 40 pounds) twice in the last 34 years, with minor skirmishes up and down the scale at other times. One loss was with a diet my doctor put me on 32 years ago, and then in 2007 I met my goal with Weight Watchers (Now WW). But each time I hit that magic number, I started back up the scale, like a swimmer who has reached one end of the pool and promptly pushes off in the other direction.

Don’t get lost in the forays into honesty, this post is not about diets, or weight loss programs, it is about cookies. Well, cookies and my next favorite treats, most carbs. Although, I started gaining some weight back soon after reaching my goal in 2007, I had still topped off by our move in 2009, to about a 14 pound gain, which I was able to maintain.

picture of some Christmas cookies, mittens with pink icing and decoration
Someone with more patience than I made these for a church cookie sale. They are here as an illustration.

Seriously, I know that it is weight loss that one is supposed to maintain, but over the years I have had better success in maintaining the gains. I had to give up some of my favorite clothes to maintain that gain, but at least it had not all come back. While I was embarrassed bout the gain, I felt pretty good where I was and the clothes I was still able to wear. And then “it” happened.

Now, before I tell you what ‘it” was, let me be clear that I am not blaming my husband for the weight gain that followed in any way, and let me also tell you that he has been in remission, for four years now. But in the fall of 2015, he was diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer that was classified as malignant, and our family doctor told me privately to “prepare myself.”

So began a season where he underwent immunotherapy, with treatment and side-effects that almost killed him, but thankfully did not; and I began a season of self-medicating with carbs. Cookies, bagels, bread, brownies, but especially cookies and bagels.

picture of chocolate kiss blossom cookies in a cookie sale
Cookies that were made for a church cookie sale. No cookies were eaten in the process of writing this post.

Now and then my husband would tell me, “you can eat just one cookie” especially when kind parishioners were gifting us with trays of Christmas cookies. But my cookies like to have friends; anything less than 2 feels like a travesty. Seriously, even on the package of your favorite sandwich cookie, it says that a serving is 2 cookies!

Stronger than the Cookie!

In a conversation with my daughter, sometime during that season, she said to me, “Mom, you are stronger than the cookie!” She is a wise young woman and has done a great job in fostering and encouraging physical activities in her children. She has also worked hard at her own physical condition and has a job that is physically demanding, in addition to being the working mother of three children under 7.

I took her advice and wrote those wise words in a piece of paper and hung them above my computer, “You are stronger than the cookie!” it read. But, not really. I did not put the sign back up after we moved. Still, I managed to maintain my weight at its upper level.

Then, COVID. We have all been on the same planet and world-wide have suffered many of the same struggles, I will not insult you by telling you mine. I will admit, in as forthright a manner possible, that only after things started returning to some normalcy, did the enormity of the amount of cookies and ice cream I managed to inhale during those long weeks dawn on me. Surprisingly, I did not gain weight, just, you know, maintained it.

On June 16th, or maybe the 15th, I was struck by a moment of clarity that amazingly enough, did not come in the form of a medical crisis. In that moment of clarity, I realized the potential disaster I was heading for, and decided to stop doing that to myself.

That simple, and that profound. I have not had a cookie, or a pair of cookies, or a store bought candy bar since June 16th. I have chosen to limit ice cream to a serving every week or every other week.

My biggest surprise in all of this has been that I could eat a regular meal and walk away from the table satisfied. I could go between meals and not be hungry. I have never been that!

I know that some people believe that sugar is addictive and some do not. I haven’t read studies, but I think that I have lived that addiction. This is not me pronouncing myself cured. Since June 16th I have been able to eat meals, and not be ravenously hungry in between. I have lived this cookie life reality for probably 65 years. While I am always happy to have people take the time to read and comment on my posts, I am not asking you to affirm or deny the facts of my confessed experience.

I would like to think that even if it is subtle, that reading the blogging friends who write about health, nutrition, physical fitness and running, have been an influence on my mindset. I appreciate them for it. I have been pretty honest that I am not now, nor have I ever been athletic, but still feel as though I fit in with the group.

I am confident and hopeful, that I can keep on keeping on. I can keep calm and skip the cookie.

And it may be that my daughter was right. With grace, it just may be that I am stronger than the cookie.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

On Writing (Part II) The Gifts of Blogging

After my trip to Onset in 2018, I resolved to take my own writing seriously, and explore blogging. It took a year, but when I returned from Onset after my 2019 visit, I began to keep that promise.

It was not without fear, though. I had thought that Blogging would be a good thing to do, but I wasn’t even sure if it was still a “thing” that people did. I worried that I wasn’t a good enough writer. There are a lot of good writers out in the world and lots of not so good writers. I wasn’t sure that the world needed one more writer.

What if no one was interested in what I had to say? But the only way to deal with “what ifs” is to act, or live in wonder. So, I decided to act. I had actually opened a free WordPress account back in 2014, but after writing a few sentences, it sat idle until December 2019.

Photo from Pixaby from Pexels

First Things First

Where to begin? I knew from Facebook that a colleague had started blogging and also had written a book, so I reached out to her for advice. She suggested a book on blogging by Barb Drozdowich, Blogging for Authors https://barbdrozdowich.com/. The book was really helpful, though being a-technical it didn’t all make sense. But Barb (imo) has a gift for making wise the simple, or making complex computer terms and directions straightforward and simple.

I took her introductory class on WordPress, and part way through it, I realized the only way I would really understand what she was saying was to do it, open up the blog and add things and write.

I was still anxious about whether or not I was doing this right, so I reached back out to the colleauge and she shared with me some of the writers that she follows. So I signed up to follow them, and of course follow her as well.

The only problem I had was that my friend did mostly book reviews, as did the people she follows. Now, there is nothing wrong with book reviews, and some of my blogging friends do them as part of their whole blogging work. But, I do not. I wouldn’t know where to start.

I may, from time to time recommend a book, as I did in a previous paragraph. But if the book is a work of fiction, what I am most likely to tell you, beyond, author, title, and publishing, will have little to do with plot, character or context.

I will tell you if I think the book has good character transformation, and I will hand pick several quotes that show the authors facility with words. Words that were seemingly gathered together and dropped into a shaker cup, like die in a Parcheesi game, swirled around in the authors mind and poured out onto the page.

So with no disrespect intended for those who write book reviews, and do them well, I went off in search of writers with similar writing styles or interests to my own. I needed something to compare my own writing to, to see if I was doing it right!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Blogging friends, do you remember your first post, or your first few posts? The first time, after I had read, re-read, edited, added, subtracted, determined categories, tags, etc., and hit “Publish” I shook. I shook with excitement, but also fear, wondering what in the world I had done.

I have preached hundreds of sermons, presided at a large number of weddings and funerals, spoken in front of a lot of people, written countless college level and post graduate papers, but I shook.

All I could think of was what Martin Luther reportedly said after nailing his 99 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Or, was it “Here I stand, and God help me!”

Yet to have finally started, and have something in writing, my thoughts, my heart, published in a blog and the hope that readers would find it, and find it interesting and somehow worthy. That was it. That was the goal!

But Wait, There’s More!

As it turned out, there were layers more, that I have found enriching, but could not have predicted. As I mentioned in the first post “on writing” writers need to be readers.

That expectation is at the heart of “link parties.” A link party is an organized system of sharing that is set up by an author or group of authors that sets out the number of posts a blogger is invited to post, and also lists expectations that said blogger will read, comment and share a certain number of the posts of participants.

There are a lot of things I have come to appreciate about these parties. Right now, there are only two link parties that I participate in, Midlife Share the Love (#MLSTL) and Esme’s Senior Salon.


Sensal Banner

Some weeks I do both parties and some weeks I alternate. It takes a lot of reading and because it does, I appreciate every reader who takes the time to read and comment on my work.

The bloggers I read and follow are at different stages of their blogging journey. Some have only been blogging a year or more longer than I have, some have been at this for years. I have learned much from simply observing their content, writing styles and set up.

In general my paragraphs are long and my use of semi-colons can be sporadic. I am just never quite sure where to put those pesky things, and opinions vary. Nonetheless, I have been affirmed for my writing, but the “Grammar Police” have not gotten after my paragraphs or semi-colons.

Content and Community

Another important layer for me is what I have learned from the content I read. Some of the bloggers I follow are athletes, not professional athletes, but individuals who are dedicated to physical fitness and their overall health. Some are runners, some have extensive exercise routines, some bicycle, and I am none of those things.

Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, and I think that there is an implicit vulnerability to our writing. If you read the same writers consistently, a sharing of life happens. A love of grandchildren, of country, of surroundings, to name only a few themes.

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

O Humanity!

One of the things that has been very uniting in this wide world of blogging, is our common, yet differing experiences of life in the time of Covid-19. Regardless of anything politicians may have you believe, this did not just affect us in the United States, hence the word, Pandemic.

Everyone I have met through writing, has had to deal with the sorrow of missing or losing long planned vacations, just barely being able to be present for the birth of a grandchild, not seeing family in person, having to reduce communications to online gatherings. All of this, to say nothing of stress and depression that has been a side-effect of lockdown.

Perhaps it is normal that news media focus on their own country. When tragedy strikes in one country, there seems to be a direct link between how many “American” lives were involved or lost, and the amount of media attention that results. I suppose in many ways it a makes sense. But I want us to care and have compassion for sorrows beyond our own.

I can’t help wonder if the world would be a more peaceful place, if more people knew more people in other countries. Last year, when fires ravaged parts of Australia, I “felt bad,” for people I did not know. It was, as awful as it may sound, a very generic kind of feeling.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I want to think that it does. Because the next time I hear about something that happened in Australia, I am going to be looking at a map, and checking in, with Deb, Jennifer, Leanne, Sue and others to inquire about their well being.

From the early days of impending lock down, television, radio and media adds have proclaimed “We are in this together!” Yes, yes we are. But my hope now is the understanding that the “We” who are in this together, is a broader “We” than just US.

I know that I am a finite person and can only hold so many people in my heart, like a life raft. Family and friends first. Yet, because of a little thing called a blog, there is room to care about Deb, Sue, Leanne and others in Australia, Corinne and Pradeep in India, Enda in Ireland, Cheryl in Romania, Laurie in Pennsylvania and the list goes on and on. They have been my teachers, my role models in writing, my readers, and my writing community.

Who knew that all this could come from simply starting a blog?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

On Writing (Part I)

I was raised on stories, the stories my mother told me, the books she introduced me to, and of course the stories that I saw on television and movies. Stories have long been my pleasant diversion. But it was my teacher’s response to a composition that I wrote in ninth grade that began my love of writing.

Picture of an older woman looking over the shoulder of a young girl looking at a book.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Just as friendship is an important prelude to marriage, so reading as an important prelude to writing. In fact in both cases, it needs to be more than a prelude but a strong ongoing connection and relationship. Writers need to be readers.

Married people need to be able to like and respect each other, especially on days that they are not so much feeling the love. And, one hopes, on the days we may not even like each other very much (I have heard that it happens) to draw on those public promises we made to love, honor and cherish each other.

I only remember a small part of that first composition I wrote, the setting and the inclusion of subtle or wry humor. What I remember most was my teacher’s praise and encouragement to write. Thank you, Sister Mary Cecile!

The writing that I did not relish was the questions we had to answer at the end of the chapters in our literature books. And yet, we read some classics and the questions forced us to think.

Over the years, through high school and beyond, writing became an occasional pursuit, one that I enjoyed while doing it, but I only wrote when inspiration struck or a particular writing assignment was given. There was however, no discipline or devotion to my writing.

Picture of a woman writing in a notebook while working on a laptop computer.
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

In my defense, I did not go to college until after I was married. I did some writing in my single-parent days, and collected some rejection slips. I wrote some short stories, lots of one-liners, greeting cards and poems.

I got really brave in the early 1980’s and did a portfolio for Hallmark Cards. It was brave, because I cannot draw stick figures, but the cards needed to be illustrated. Rejected. I sent some one-liner’s to Reader’s Digest. Rejected. Now, I have to tell you, that one hurt. Especially the one I sent for “Toward More Picturesque Speech” It was “A fisherman waiting with bated breath.” I thought that was pretty picturesque!

In the meantime, I had three children, got divorced and spent much of the following ten years just trying to keep bodies and souls together. Ten years after that, after getting remarried and two empty nests (my kids and his), I answered a call to pastoral ministry. In the process, of becoming a pastor, I returned to college to get my Bachelor’s Degree, so I could go to seminary and get my Master’s Degree.

Three college level composition classes and a Creative Writing minor, forced me to a certain level of discipline and devotion to writing. Now though, all my writing was assigned, to say nothing of sermons and newsletters.

picture of a large staak of colorful books.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

There were times I felt like I was pushing out the toothpaste that was left in the bottom of the tube. But in college and seminary, given a choice between writing papers or taking exams, I always chose the papers.

History papers, theater papers, and of course all the levels of creative writing class papers, theology papers, biblical studies papers; my papers had papers! Eight years after getting my Master of Divinity degree, I returned to seminary for a Doctor of Ministry Degree and, you guessed it, more papers and a thesis.

Through all these years of writing, I did not give up the dream of publishing or getting published. I admit, I was disappointed to realize that I could not just publish my thesis as is, without a major rewrite. Shucks, I thought it was good and interesting (to a specific audience) and put that in the “maybe one day” category.

Pursing publishing, however, takes persistence and dedication and a lot more. In between getting degrees, I wrote sermons, newsletters and some things that I considered to be fun and hopefully informative. But I only wrote them when the inspiration hit. Still, I had no discipline, or plan, until Onset.

Walking and driving around Onset on those fall, rainy days in 2018 unleashed the floodgates in more than one way. The stories came, in waves, in torrents, rolling around in my head and heart as if they were big enough to contain the waters of Onset Bay and the Cape Cod Canal, Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Picture of the
Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

The memories too came in those persistent waves, until I realized the only way to deal with them was to write. To stop holding back the tide, to commit to making room for them in my day and allow them to spill onto paper. Written, not in pen and ink, but written in the salt water of the ocean and the salt water of tears, of gratitude and memory.

I still write sermons, I love to write sermons! I love biblical stories and characters. I love to read and listen to stories. I am in the car a lot and would be lost without “my” audiobooks and the opportunity to listen to writers who serve up a concoction of delicious words and amazing descriptions.

Writing may be a compulsion or a disease, for which the only cure is discipline and devotion. I have finally resolved to do what the sign on my wall says, and “write something every day!” To let those pesky thoughts out onto paper, before they die of solitary confinement. And so I write, because at 70 years old, I am

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

Looking for a Good Read?


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Looking for some good short reading? This is one of the places that I link up. If you click on this Esme’s link, https://esmesalon.com  you will find a variety of posts, crafts, recipes, sewing, travel articles and writers’ blogs of all kinds. Best of all, you don’t have to be  a Blogger to access this site. I try to post something there most Mondays and I have ‘met’ some wonderful writers there.
 
Best and Blessings,
 
Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles