Habits for the New Year

One of the things I decided to do this year is consistently set aside time for daily reflection. I didn’t really set New Year’s Resolutions, but rather decided to form a few low pressure habits that I felt would help me to center myself and develop clarity.  One of the biggest problems I have is feeling like I’m being pulled in too many directions. Some of those feelings come from the fast-paced culture we live in. Some of them are self-imposed. It’s hard for me to know where to focus. 

I’ve been trying to read through the entire Bible for years. I’m up to the book of Luke. Last year was going to be my year to complete it. I even listed it as one of the books on my book club challenge under the religious book category, but I didn’t finish it. This year I’ve decided to keep working on it, but to keep it low pressure. I’ve decided to read it for at least 10 minutes a day then pray/meditate for 10 minutes a day and finally journal for 10 minutes a day. That’s not very much, only 30 minutes a day. I can do more if I want. Sometimes I’m sure I will, but the point is to establish consistency, to establish a regular pattern of reflection, and see what comes of it.

The first day I did it, I ended up reading Luke Ch.18:1-8, not for any particular reason other than it was simply the next passage in my Bible. It was a parable about an old widow who visited an unjust judge to ask him to avenge her against some adversaries. I’m not sure what the backstory was. That information wasn’t provided. But the bottom line is, she wanted justice. The judge wasn’t really interested in her. He actually blew her off, but she was persistent. Eventually, he realized that she was not going to go away and would continue to seek his help. So in order to avoid the nuisance, he acquiesced and gave her the justice she desired. The moral was that if an unjust judge who cared nothing for that woman would help her due to her persistence, how much more would a God who loves a person and actually cares about him/her do for that individual?

Ok, I thought. If I’m going to pray about something consistently, what should I pray for? I thought of three things I wanted the most, not possessions or anything like that, but three things I wanted most for my life; and I decided to include those things always in my prayers and meditations. Where it goes remains to be seen, but already I can’t help but notice…some signs of focus. I was able to shut down some of the internal chatter by simply asking myself, If I were to ask God for three things…what three things do I want the most?

I’m interested to see where this will lead. Time will tell.

Miracles on Mother’s Day

Recently, I checked out a book, “Miracles: Poems by children of the English-speaking world” by Richard Lewis from my local library. I’m currently writing a few things for children and thought the book might help me to gain a better understanding of what words appeal to them. What I found was an impressive collection of poems from children between the ages of 5-13.  Since it is Mother’s Day, I went through the book and pulled out some pieces that address the subject of mothers even if the poem is not specifically written about a mother. They are not as naive and lighthearted as one would think and offer a complex description of emotions. I thought I would share a few of them with you today.

The first one refers to Mother Earth but it’s astonishing how well the child taps into the imagery of a mother’s womb.

“The Mine”

Here we are; in the darkness, 

Close to the very heart of Mother 


Where her blood flows in seams of 

shining coal, 

And our picks beat a rhythm to her heart, 

Where her warm brown flesh encloses 


And her rocky bones trap us. 

By Bronwyn Mason, Age 12


The next one is written by a little boy named David Recht, Age 10, under the subject matter “The Sea”. This one struck me as so sensitive since he seems to project his own feelings of how awful it would be to lose his mother onto a baby fish.

The little fish cries; 

His mother has been

Taken by


He dives 

to the bottom

Trying to forget. 

His stillness makes 

Him afraid. 

He swims after his 


Silently crying. 

The last one, written by a 10-year-old named Martha White, seems to express nostalgia and loss in her grandmother’s house. It appears the grandmother is no longer there.

“The Memory-Filled House”

Along the long, dark hallway, 

Up the memory-filled stairs, 

Walking down the back way, 

In the bare kitchen, with a harshness in the air, 

In the dining room, no table or chair, 

On the sideboard, no apple, orange, or pear, 

In Grandma’s room, no pictures on the wall, 

Again, down the long, dark hall. 

The book is filled with amazing poems on several different subjects. There wasn’t an area devoted to writing specifically about the children’s mothers and if there was, I feel that I would have found more light-hearted poems. But what I did find in the poems I pulled out was a theme of how deeply connected, to the core, we are to our mothers.

If you are lover of poetry, you may want to see if it is available at your local library.

I hope everyone has a splendid Mother’s Day!





The Fort Fisher Hermit

“Hermits are hermits at home before they hit the jungles. Everybody ought to be a hermit for a few minutes or so every twenty-four hours, to study, meditate and commune with their creator.” Robert E. Harrill (1893-1972)

Robert Harrill had some difficulties in life. He was born on February 2, 1893. His mother died of typhoid fever when he was 7-years-old and he was sent to live with his authoritarian grandfather and an abusive step-grandmother. As a child he learned to find solace in the woods, hiding among the trees and playing in the creeks, to escape his family.

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Originally, he wanted to be a Baptist minister. He didn’t have financial support from his family, though, so he worked on farms until he earned enough money to attend the Boiling Springs Baptist Boarding School. While in school, he acquired a “printing outfit” and worked for local newspapers as an apprentice. This lead to a newspaper career that lasted until he was 40-years-old when, according to The Reluctant Hermit of Fort Fisher, he began to have health problems from lead poisoning. After that, he worked an assortment of jobs in an effort to support his family. He and his wife, Katie, had five children total but lost two children, an infant daughter and a son, Alvin, who committed suicide as a young man.  


Robert battled what he called demons in his head for many years. On one occasion, his wife’s family had him committed to Broughton Mental Hospital in western NC, but the stay was brief and he left on his own. All of these factors produced stress on his marriage and eventually Katie left to accept a job as a housekeeper in Pennsylvania. She took the children.


At the age of 62, Robert hitchhiked to Fort Fisher, NC where he set up residence in an abandoned WWII bunker and eventually became the Fort Fisher Hermit. Robert was a curious “hermit”, though. Initially, he retreated to the marshes of Fort Fisher to escape the demands of the modern world and even judgement from other people, but he was a likeable man, well-spoken and described as a “gentle” spirit, and people were drawn to him. Whenever someone crossed his path in the marsh, he generally welcomed the company and before long, he was receiving many visitors. During his stay at the bunker, he received about 100,000 visitors and eventually he became the second largest tourist attraction in North Carolina behind the USS Battleship North Carolina. Had he been a blogger, I think he would have had a heck of a following.


Unfortunately, not all of his visitors came with the best of intentions. He was beat up and robbed on several occasions and on June 3, 1972, he died under suspicious circumstances. The only consolation those close to him could take from his death was that he died on his own terms and he died free.


“Millions of people, at some time or another, want to do just what I am doing, but since it is so much easier thought than done, they subconsciously elect me to represent them.”


For more information on Robert check out the following links to the book and film which are the sources for my blog:


The Reluctant Hermit 




Greensboro Writer’s Conference

This weekend, I did something very writery and attended the NC Writer’s Spring Conference. Located at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the conference offered exhibits and book sales, a choice of one morning and one afternoon workshop, faculty readings, open Mike readings and more.

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It was actually a busy weekend in Greensboro as an annual Furniture Market was also taking place. After driving over three hours to Greensboro on Friday afternoon, I was glad to have secured a room early at the local Hyatt as rooms were scarce and overpriced in response to the crowds.  While I sat at the hotel bar sipping a rum and coke and dining on chili and spinach salad, I overheard a few people at the front desk trying to get a room, only to be told that there were no rooms available. I felt very fortunate for mine.

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I slept well on Friday and arrived at the conference on Saturday morning early enough to peruse the exhibit tables. Small publishers and independent bookstores filled their tables with books from NC authors that they had published or were affiliated. A few of them offered information on writing contests. I met a woman who offered to put my name on an email list for an online critique group for people who write children’s books.


Next, I attended my first workshop at the conference. The topic was building poems that editors will publish. In the workshop, we discussed lyricism in poetry and finding one’s unique voice as a poet. The author and editor leading the workshop gave us some insight on what she looks for when she screens poems for her press.


Afterwards, we broke for lunch. I had never been to the UNCG campus so I googled restaurants close by. There were two within walking distance. As I stood inside the Old Town Draught House, a fellow workshopper from Charlotte, Reita, offered me a look at her menu. A gentleman behind us told us that in order to be served we simply needed to sit down at the bar. We decided to sit together and order. I dined on the Turkey melt with veggies and sweet tea and conversed with Reita over lunch. By the time we finished eating, we had exchanged contact information. We walked back to the workshop and parted ways. I went on to listen to a few faculty readings.


My afternoon workshop, geared towards children’s authors, was titled “Exercising the Imagination”.  We discussed ways to tap into our personal passions and take our stories in new directions. The author leading the workshop gave us some ideas for exercises that we could use to access our imaginations. He was also a good source of information regarding future conferences.


Before I left for the day, I decided to pick up a book from both of my workshop presenters. They were on sale at the exhibit tables and were reasonably priced. Running Music  by Crystal Simone Smith is a book of poems and The Nine Pound Hammer  by John Claude Bemis is a YA fantasy book that explores American mythology. I look forward to reading them both.


Before I hit the road, I googled the closest Starbuck’s and picked up a Starbuck’s Mocha and a cookie. Probably not so wise as I’m trying to lose a little weight, but I’ll start over tomorrow. I had a long ride ahead of me and kind of wanted something special to take the edge off the commute.

I’m really glad I went to the conference this weekend. It was a great source of instruction and information, and I met a lot of pleasant people. Plus it was empowering. I don’t often travel alone overnight and it was kind of nice to go on my own. It was also nice to take another step towards fulfilling my desire to be a writer.   



I’ve been a little anxious lately. Nothing serious. It will pass. As you know, life ebbs and flows. At some point, probably soon, this anxious little river I’ve been sailing down will turn a corner and flow into a happy place once again. It is spring, after all.

It’s not one thing in particular that gets me down, rather just the piling up of life. The house isn’t clean enough. The lawn is starting to need maintenance. It’s hard to find the time to write. The list goes on. It becomes overwhelming at times, even paralyzing. Maybe it is because I want a lot from life?

I bet you know the feeling. It’s a challenge to squeeze in the cleaning, hobbies and relationships on the weekends before you have to go back to work on Monday and commit 40 hours of waking time to someone else who, thank goodness, is willing to pay for it. But that is almost everyone’s plight.

Sometimes I forget to pause and regroup mindfully. That is ironic because when I get overwhelmed I always end up pausing one way or the other, anyway, whether it be with purpose or just by sitting on the couch and watching Hulu marathons. The difference is that one pause has purpose and the other is a waste of time (If you take it too far, that is. ..nothing wrong with a Hulu marathon from time to time).

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I’m listening to a book right now called, “Why Time Flies” by Alan Burdick. In the book, the author examines time: its origin, our relationship to it, our comprehension of it and scientific methods of measuring time.  I think sometimes that my comprehension of time, simple and limited as it is, produces anxiety. It puts me in a position to worry about time. I try to bargain with it and stretch it out, all the while wasting it. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only person who does this. That is a paradox, isn’t it? It’s as if we need time to create structure, but then some of us turn around and rebel against it as if it is an authority figure. It’s a love/hate relationship. I love the days when I’m able to accomplish a lot with my time, but I hate feeling bound to accomplish too much with my time. I hate it when lazy days drag on too long and I have nothing to show for them, but on the other hand, the most joyful moments in my life have occurred when I was oblivious to time and completely in a moment. In a moment when I paused and found purpose.

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I  googled the term “pause with purpose”. Not surprisingly, I’m not the only person who has thought of this phrase.  My google feed was filled with businesses, yogis and life coaches who were all trying to push their plans to pause with purpose. Everyone is looking for the sweet spot.
I think I feel myself starting to turn that corner now. Maybe all I needed was to pause and write it out 🙂

Discovering Dante

So I joined a book club at the beginning of the year. It’s a very flexible book club. You simply pick the number of books you want to read over the course of the year from several pre-set categories. So far, I’ve read “Death Comes to Pemberley”, “Blink” and “The Girl on the Train”.

I wanted to read a classic. Originally, the classic was going to be “Frankenstein”, mainly because it’s creepy and I already have a copy; but for some reason, when it was time to actually read “Frankenstein” I just wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I decided to read “The Divine Comedy” by Dante. I majored in English Lit in college and had to read Dante back in the day, but truthfully, I did not study or comprehend it to the best of my abilities.

Now I knew this poem was long, I really did, but in my mind it was about 200 pages long. Imagine my surprise when I went to my local library to check out the poem and it was not 200 but 693 pages long. Holding the book in my hand, I stared at the daunting task before me. I thought about  simply reading “Inferno”, the first of three parts of the poem which IS about 200 pages long; but then I decided to suck it up and read the whole thing. Now, I’ve modified that goal again. I still want to finish it. I downloaded it on my phone and plan to pick it up and put it down in increments. This book is a project. It’s not something that you simply read and absorb. It’s a beast of a masterpiece that you research and study. I should be finished with “Inferno”, the first book, sometime this weekend. I can’t give you an exact timeline on the last two books.


It’s been a long time since I put so much effort into reading a book. I started out by really reading and PAYING ATTENTION to the introduction of the book. I know this sounds very basic, but if I am going to be completely honest, I am often guilty of skimming over introductions. (I can also be guilty of skimming over instructions. It probably comes from the same place in my personality…but that’s another blog). That was not an option with this book. I truly needed the synopsis to get me started because I needed to know what to look for. Yes, I know I read this in college, but we’ve already established that I didn’t actually read it very well, and it was a long time ago.

I’ve also found myself stopping quite often to research passages and terms, and there are many, that are unfamiliar to me. Below are a few examples.

Simony- the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges or pardons

Barrater-Everyone knows what a barrater is, right? I didn’t so I looked it up. It’s a person who commits barratry. Well, yes (imagine the eye roll when I read that definition), but what is barratry? It’s fraud on the part of a ship’s master or crew that injures the owners, for example embezzlement, and it is addressed in the 5th subdivision of the 8th circle of Hell in “Inferno”.

City of Dis- It’s the city that encompasses the sixth through the ninth circles of hell. Lovely place.

You get the idea. I’ve learned to read the book with my iPhone close by so that I can stop frequently to google the new old words and phrases that I am encountering.  

Another thing that  I’ve done to help myself better comprehend this poem, and this IS cheating, is enlist the aid of an audio book. Not so that I can listen instead of read so much as listen while I read. It’s very helpful to have a narrator who uses one voice for Dante, one for Virgil and other voices for the all of the various and sundry demons and lost souls. It helps me keep track of who is speaking.

You would think that in the midst of all this effort, I would not have time to process the brilliance of the piece. What I can say is that it comes in waves. There are moments when I am just trying to get through a canto, and there are other moments when I truly recognize the amazing feat of what Dante accomplished. He wrote an intricate tale of nine levels of hell, purgatorio and paradiso in 14,233 lines, all in a terza rima verse scheme that he INVENTED for the story.  Something to marinate. The book that I am reading is also peppered with classical drawings of lost souls suffering in hell. I saw one earlier today that knocked me so hard that my gut clenched with empathy for the soul.

Yesterday, I found myself wondering if Dante would have been able to write “The Divine Comedy” had he not been exiled from his home city of Florence-for barratry, no less- at the time that he was writing. From what I’ve read, there is a chance that the charges were false, but the point is, sometimes our most brilliant moments occur when we are at our lowest. It’s as if something beautiful emerges from desperation…and then perhaps there is redemption?

Well, wish me luck on Dante’s tour of the afterlife. I’m thinking that I might find an empty lifeguard stand this weekend and read at the beach. That should cut the heat a bit.

In fact-checking my post, I found the following link. How perfect: