Change

via Daily Prompt: Savor

Life is full of changes. My job was recently complicated when one of my leads resigned to take another position. A new team was put in place and I found myself in the position of being one of the most seasoned members on that project. Now, I’m perfectly capable of leading. I’m even kind of good at it, but I still don’t always look for excuses to lead. I love mentoring, but being the leader is a different ball of wax. Being the leader requires more commitment, more stress and frankly, less freedom; and if I’m going to be perfectly honest about myself, freedom is one of my favorite things in the whole world. So it’s a struggle. As per my normal reaction, I’m trying to find a happy balance with the situation.

In addition, my baby sister has decided to move to California which is literally on the other side of the country. I’ve been scrambling to get some time with her before she goes; and I’m already thinking ahead to my first visit, which has been difficult to pull together due to conflicting timelines.

Last night, our large family came together and we took her to dinner. There were seven small children total in our group so I imagine the restaurant is still nursing the wounds of that trauma 🙂 (Needless to say, we tipped our waitress very well). Afterwards, my sister and I stood outside of the restaurant and talked to one of my brothers and his family for about 45 minutes then she and I went for a drink with a couple of her friends.

As we stood outside of the restaurant, I looked up to see the sky in all its glory as the sun set behind the clouds. A sense of awe and freedom and gratitude washed over me as I stood under the sky and talked to my siblings in the parking lot. Afterwards, my sister and I went out and extended our visit.

Sometimes, life takes twists and turns and we don’t know where it’s taking us. I was talking to a friend a while back. She was looking to make some changes in her life and was overwhelmed by how she should do it.

“I have a tendency to get bogged down with the big picture,” I said.

“Me, too!” she answered.

But I think the key is to just take the next step. We can be aware of the big picture, but most of the time, we won’t be able to just jump to the end. We just have to take the next step and savor the good times along the way. Make the most of a visit when the opportunity presents itself and always glance up to see the sunset.

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New Orleans Streetcar

via Daily Prompt: Tender

It has been about 8 months since I visited New Orleans for the first time. One of my friends is a HUGE Keith Urban fan so we traveled to NOLA to attend a concert at the Smoothie King arena downtown.

The wonderful thing about going somewhere for the first time is that it is perfectly acceptable to be a shameless tourist. Besides the concert, we filled our weekend with all of the typical NOLA tourist activities. We took the streetcar to Bourbon Street  where I’m pretty sure I dined on the best shrimp jambalaya I will ever consume in my life, and to Cafe du Monde where I sampled the best beignets I will probably ever taste. We took a bus tour of the Garden District, which was beautiful, then to the 9th Ward where we saw houses and neighborhoods that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

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All of these memories linger in my mind, and now with a base of experience, I have a better idea of what I want to explore further if I go back to New Orleans; but there is another memory from the streetcar that lingers, as well, and it is a simple one.

The streetcars intrigued me. Their charming trademark appearance of wooden seats and exposed light bulbs were distinctly New Orleans. For those who don’t know the mechanics of the streetcars, they run on electricity. They don’t travel quickly, and there are frequent stops. They offer a unique experience but also require some patience. There was a variety of people thrown together on the streetcars: tourists, people going to and from work and residents just running errands.

The first night we were in New Orleans, we took the streetcar to Bourbon St. That is a story in itself. We missed our stop and would not have known except that I started talking to a female passenger who informed me that if we were going to Bourbon St, we had to get off the streetcar quickly. I told the driver and she did stop for us…two blocks out from Bourbon St. She pointed to a stretch of dark road and said, “It’s two blocks that way. Just go straight and you will walk right into it”. We hesitantly got out of the car and stepped into a city that was strange to us then walked down the dark stretch of road to Bourbon St. It didn’t help my nerves when I looked back at the woman on the streetcar and noticed a look of concern on her face. But we made it there okay and it was a lesson learned. When we left, we took a taxi back to the hotel since it was so late.

As I said, there was a diverse group of passengers on the streetcar. I remember one time during our travels when the streetcar stopped for several minutes to pick up another passenger. I glanced out the window, curious to see who was boarding. An older man in a wheelchair sat on the curb. He held a large bottle of water, a cup and a small dog on his lap. I learned that the streetcars are equipped with platforms that can be lowered to the curb for people who use wheelchairs, but there is a process to lowering the platform and it takes a few minutes. I glanced around the car which was relatively full, and noticed that even though we were full and on a delay, no-one seemed impatient. Everyone took the pause in stride. I glanced back down at the man. He poured some water into his cup and shared it with the dog on his lap. For some reason, I was filled with a sense of tenderness. For the man, for the dog and even for the passengers who patiently waited for his arrival inside the car. Shortly thereafter, he wheeled onto the lowered platform and was raised up to join us.

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All in all, it was a really enjoyable trip. I was reminded by a couple of people during the weekend to “be careful” as I explored the city as a tourist, but I was very fortunate. Most of the people I encountered were friendly and patient. Even helpful. And also, in case you are wondering, Keith Urban was great in concert! If you get a chance to see him, you should go.

Have a wonderful weekend, all!

 

 

My brief adventures in Waxhaw, NC

This weekend I took a little road trip to visit some friends. My destination, Waxhaw NC, was not very distant, only 3 hours away. I didn’t explore any hiking trails like I often do or attend a writer’s conference. It was a straight up indulgent, sit-by-the pool and eat trip. Oh, and there was a ballet recital. A friend of mine teaches ballet and I attended a recital for her students who performed a little Spanish piece called “Carmen”.

 

I didn’t think I would find anything to write about this weekend, and truthfully, I didn’t write anything on my computer or on paper during the trip, but I did write some things in my head. The ballet recital reminded me of a couple of things I’m writing for children, one story about a little girl who is learning to pick out her clothes and another about a little girl with crazy hair. After the recital, I conversed with my friend’s mother, who is also a writer, about an idea I have about two boys exploring at the beach.

 

One morning, I woke up early to find the rest of the house still sleeping. I crept into the kitchen to find that someone had gotten up earlier, filled the Keurig with water then gone back to bed. Best hosts ever, I thought as I made a cup of coffee. I crept outside to sit at the table on their back porch. The air was already hot and humid and the sun was beating down on one side of the table. I picked a seat that was still shaded and wondered how long it would take for the sun to catch up with me. As I sat in the serenity of their backyard among the trees, beautiful green lawn and singing birds, this blog started to form in my mind. Sometimes, in order to write or be productive at anything, you have to relax and take a deep breath. Everyone is different, but for me, creativity flows when I have time to sit back and gain perspective.

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The sweet spot of shade and solitude didn’t last very long. People began to rise and soon I was joined on the porch by others with their own cups of coffee. The sun crawled across the table to join us and the quiet morning eased into a happy, social spring afternoon. Eventually, we changed into bathing suits and headed for the pool. I had an opportunity to drive a golf cart to the pool which was a BLAST.

 

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“I’m retiring to a golf community, “I announced. “Even though I don’t play golf…I just want to drive the cart”.  

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Truthfully, I probably won’t have the money to retire to such a community. But that’s ok. It was still a lot of fun driving the cart 🙂

 

I passed a few interesting places when I was in Waxhaw. It looks like they have a small but very quaint downtown area, and I learned that Waxhaw is a major equestrian community. There are horses and rolling hills everywhere. So, who knows, I may go back and explore these things later on. And then I guess that experience will be its own blog.

 

Have a great day all!  

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.

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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.   

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Ann Street Methodist Church and Old Burying Ground

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My introduction to the Ann Street Methodist Church occurred when I visited the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, NC. Beaufort, founded in 1709, is the third-oldest city in North Carolina. It is a town rich in history with stories from the civil war, pre-civil war and even Blackbeard the pirate who ran his ship ashore in 1719. The Old Burying Ground, the town’s oldest cemetery,  is located between two churches on Ann St: First Baptist Church and Ann Street Methodist Church which was established in 1778.

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(Photo credit: Ann Street United Methodist Church)

Ann Street Methodist Church has its own stories. During the civil war, Union soldiers moved into the church. The sanctuary was used as a field hospital then later it was also used as a hospital during the yellow fever. The cemetery entrance is to the side of the church with the grounds stretching behind the church.

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Upon entering the burying grounds, one can take a brochure which highlights the graves in the cemetery. I, myself, am a fan of cemeteries, not because of some morbid curiosity, but rather because of the stories that they tell. Each grave is a snapshot both into someone’s life and into the times in which they lived. Here are a few interesting snapshots taken directly from the brochure:

 

Pierre Henry (1812-1877) — and Annie Henry (1816-1904) African Americans who were leaders in the education of emancipated slaves and their children at the Washburn Seminary. He was born free during the period of slavery. The school was one of many established in the South by the Congregational Churches of the North following the Civil War.

 

Captain John Sabiston (1800’s) — Died near Charleston, S.C. and was brought home by his crew. People gathered by the wharf at the foot of Turner Street as his body was taken off his ship. They followed as it was taken on a bier through the dark streets of town to the graveyard and lowered into the readied grave by torch light.

 

Sarah Gibbs (d.1792) & Jacob Shepard (d.1773) — Sarah was married to Jacob Shepard, a seaman. Jacob’s ship went to sea, but never returned. He was presumed to be dead. Later, Sarah married Nathaniel Gibbs and had a child with him. After an absence of several years, the shipwrecked Jacob Shepard unexpectedly returned to Beaufort to find his wife married to another man. The two men agreed that Sarah would remain with Gibbs as long as she lived, but must spend eternity at the side of Jacob Shepard.

 

“Crissie Wright” Common Grave — “Cold as the night the ‘Crissie Wright’ went ashore” is still heard around Beaufort. The sailors who froze to death after the wreck of that ship in January, 1886 are buried together in this grave. It is said this tragedy led to the establishment of the Cape Lookout Lifesaving Station in 1887.

 

Girl in Barrel of Rum — Here is the grave of a girl buried in a barrel of rum. In the 1700s an English family, including an infant daughter, came to Beaufort. The girl grew up with a desire to see her homeland, and finally persuaded her mother to allow her to make the voyage. Her father promised his wife he would return the girl safely. The girl enjoyed her visit to London, but died on the voyage home. She would have been buried at sea, but her father could not bear to break his promise. He purchased a barrel of rum from the captain, placed her body in it, and brought it to Beaufort for burial.

 

Can you imagine the reaction to a story like the Girl in Barrel of Rum if it were to happen today?

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(Photo Credit: Old Burying Ground)

If you ever get the chance to visit Beaufort, I encourage you to stop by the Old Burying Ground behind Ann St Methodist Church. Afterwards, there are several quaint restaurants and coffee houses in case you are hungry or just need a little pick me up. I’m particularly fond of the Chai Latte at the Beaufort Coffee shop on Turner St.

Have a great weekend, all!

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

I’m fortunate enough to have an old group of girlfriends with which to travel from time to time. As a group, we’ve taken several “girls weekends” together. We’re all scattered across North Carolina so the trips have generally been around the south for close proximity: Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Topsail Island, Beaufort, Williamsburg and more. I’ve known these ladies for years. For me, the relationships date back to college or shortly after; for a few of them they date back even further. We’ve even named our group: SWAGs. It stands for Southern Women Aging Gracefully. I’m not sure who came up with it. It wasn’t me. Truthfully, it took a while for me to really embrace the name, mostly because I didn’t feel old. Now, in my forties, I’ve finally started to grow into it.

 

It’s often a challenge to schedule our weekends. There are seven of us with busy and differing schedules. A couple of the ladies are single. The rest are married with children. A few work full or part-time jobs. Others are stay-at-home moms or have gone back to school. And not every SWAG can make it on every trip, but we’ve had some good ones throughout the years. I was terribly excited the year we went to Savannah. We rented a beach house on Tybee Island, 30 minutes from Savannah, and spent part of our time relaxing on the beach. We also spent some time in downtown Savannah. We strolled the streets, visited the shops, and ate lunch (shrimp and grits for me). We toured cemeteries and even took a haunted carriage ride as it became dark later in the day. I loved Savannah. It was eclectic, dripping with history, but also populated with young artsy hipsters.

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We encountered the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist during our exploration of downtown Savannah. St. John’s, a Victorian Gothic cathedral, is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Georgia. It was founded by French Catholic emigres from Haiti in the 1700’s.  The original building suffered a fire in 1898, but was rebuilt in 1900. It was larger than life in every sense of the word. In order to find the cathedral we followed the steeples from a distance, and once we entered the church, it did not disappoint. From the stained-glass windows to the ornate altar to the images of the crucifixion displayed around the church, it was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited.

Below are some more of the photos I took of the Cathedral.

You can see additional pictures at the link above.

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Have a great Saturday, all!

 

Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is perched atop and built into a redrock cliff. Located in  Sedona, Arizona, it is a marvel of architecture. The chapel was commissioned by Marguerite Brunswig Staude who was a local sculptor, and was completed in 1956.

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I visited the chapel in 2009. It was my first and only trip to Arizona, although I hope to visit again. I am a beach girl by heart, but I must admit that my soul was enamored and awestruck by the beauty of the redrocks. What a wonder!

Below are some of my pictures of the chapel and the surrounding area of Sedona.

These pictures were taken inside the chapel.

And these were taken outside. What a magnificent view!

 

Iglesia de Santo Tomás

Iglesia de Santo Tomas is located in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. I visited the church in 2010 while on a short-term mission trip with a team from the church that I was attending at the time. The goal of my team was to help build houses for widows and orphans and to work in feeding centers following an intense period of civil war in Guatemala. Our house was blocks from Santo Tomas.

 

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I found the opportunity to explore the church late one afternoon with a few people from my team. I believe it was a Sunday after the market closed. Chichicastenango is also host to one of the largest, most colorful outdoor markets in Central America. It occurs on Thursdays and Sundays.

One of the girls on my team stopped me as I started to walk out the door. She frowned and asked if I really wanted to go to  Santo Tomas. She said that someone else on our team had already visited the church and told her that it was “dark” and had kind of an eerie feel to it. I said that I would be mindful of that, but I really wanted to see the church. I remembered researching Chichi before I ever visited Guatemala and I had seen pictures of Santo Tomas. There was no way I was not going to seize the opportunity to explore the site.

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People and flowers from the market lingered on the steps of Santo Tomas as we approached. My research had taught me that it was a Catholic church that doubled as a Mayan temple of sorts, as Mayan priests also used the church for their rituals, burning candles and incense and sometimes sacrificing chickens at the church. There was a time when human sacrifices were conducted there, too, but thank goodness, that is no more. There were 18 steps that led to the doors of the church, each one representing a year on the Mayan calendar. The church was enormous, impressive and rather surreal.

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We entered the church and it was, in fact, dark that afternoon. Literally. The lighting was very dim. Candles were scattered throughout the building. Almost immediately, I noticed an older man sitting on the floor surrounded by candles. He was chanting in a language that I did not understand, probably K’iche’. I moved past him toward the sanctuary. A few people sat and prayed in church pews, just like you would see in any Catholic church. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see the two religions being practiced within feet of one another.

As I wandered about the sanctuary, I saw a mixture of sights. In some areas, there were large stains of soot from candles on the wall. It was as if the candles had been burning in the temple for the entire 400 years since it had been built, and nobody had ever offered to wipe down the walls. Of course, that’s an exaggeration and even if it wasn’t, in a country where people are starving, wiping the soot off the walls is the least of anyone’s concerns.

In the front of the church, there were ornate paintings and statues paying tribute to Christ and his followers. Some of them were strikingly beautiful, others not as much. One display, in particular, a gruesome bloody bust of a head, caught my eye. I assumed it was John the Baptist at the time, but it could have been a bust of Christ. We meandered out into a courtyard, which was filled with light and greenery, then proceeded to the front door where we were approached by men begging for money. I’m not sure if they were affiliated with the church or if they wandered in off of the street.

As we walked back to our house, I could see why someone from my church would have found Santo Tomas disconcerting. Our church near the beach was clean with huge windows and lots of light. People went to church in their flipflops, got a coffee from a cafe located inside the church then sat to chit chat with friends as they waited for the service. Services always began with Christian rock songs and sermons were delivered by a cute, good-natured, good-humored preacher. It was a church that delivered positivity. Many of the people who visited Santo Tomas were hungry, desperate and praying to any God that they knew of to ease their suffering. The suffering from the streets bled into the church. This was difficult to reconcile if you felt that churches were supposed to be safe havens to which people retreated to avoid suffering. It was a sharp contrast between two worlds.

I think it’s important to say that even though I saw a lot of suffering in Guatemala, I also saw a lot of resilience and beauty. I went there twice, once in 2010 then again in 2011, and I experienced moments there that were among the most profound and beautiful in my life. I still feel pangs of longing for Guatemala sometimes.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of one of my trips to Guatemala.

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Corn-it’s very central to the Mayan religion.

 

 

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Beautiful babies peeking at us through the trees.

A tourist day to see the volcano and Lake Atitlan.