My mother’s table – Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m celebrating this Thanksgiving at my mother’s table, once again.

It’s not often, at this point in my life, that I find myself surrounded by family for the holiday. We often visit in summer, or at Christmas, but the Thanksgiving break is shorter, and makes for a harder trip.

But this year, the stars aligned, and we have a cross-section of ages and family branches, from multiple time zones and states, gathered to share the day and the feast, to tell stories and catch up on news, to snap photos and give hugs. We’ll hear about what’s new, remember what’s past, (and who’s passed), and talk.

Most of all, we’ll talk.

In my mother’s kitchen, around my mother’s table, we’ll talk. The stories will flow, and mostly they’ll be funny. Sometimes the talk turns to country and opinions, and the opinions are always strong, and strongly voiced. But no one is uninvited here, whatever is said. We’re family, and that’s that.

My mother has two tables, in side-by-side rooms. There’s a formal dining room, and we’ll have enough people in the house that both tables will be used.

But it’s the kitchen table where the magic happens.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, when we gather, we eat, we talk, and we laugh, often late into the night.

Like so many families across the country, we’ll do the traditional things, eat traditional foods, and mark another year.

There are some missing from our clan. Some just can’t be here, too far to travel, and too short a break. We’re missing others who’ll never sit with us again. But they’re here in spirit, and in stories, and in the recipes we use, the names we recall…”Papa,” “Mama,” “Daddy,” “Mother.”

The day will be full, and we’ll be full, stuffed with all the trimmings, and all the favorite dishes offered up to mark the meal, to say this is a special time, to remind us of tradition and occasion.

We are thankful, the lot of us. We’ve all known joys, and we’ve each known loss. We’re a cross-section of Americana, in so many ways…from careers to interests to where we live and how we talk. Some accents are southern, some less so. Mostly we’re united by common genes, common faith, and heritage of place and upbringing, though we’ve wandered far and wide from our starting points.

Thanksgiving is a day for many things…a national pause to say grace and peace, to thank and remember, to eat and celebrate. Mostly, to me, it’s about family. Purer than any other holiday for that focus, it’s a day that allows us to be together with no other motive than that…to be together. The food and the other traditions are really the extras. It was never really about what’s on the table.

What we’re really thankful for are the people, gathered around.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! May your table be full of food cooked with love, and the chairs be filled with faces you love. As you look around tomorrow, may you know who you’re thankful for, and find kindred spirits to talk and laugh with.

I’ll be at my mother’s table, and I’ll be thankful to see the faces, hear the stories, and feel the love.

~ Sheila

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Sometimes you need to be still…

For two years I’ve lived out of a suitcase. Two years.

I never saw that coming.

The past two years, since we sold the house in Ketchikan, we’ve worked in small communities in SE Alaska, lived in temporary duty clinic housing, and traveled.

We’ve traveled a lot.

And that’s been good. We’ve traveled for work and traveled for fun, spent time with family and friends, and seen some amazing places. We sorted through a lot of stresses, a lot of questions, as individuals, and as a couple.

We didn’t really have a plan when this chapter began. We just sort of fell into this life. Mostly we couldn’t decide what we wanted, where we wanted to make a home again. We still haven’t decided. And the thing about Alaska is, there’s always plenty of work. It’s easy to ride the circuit of clinics, spending a few weeks or a month at a time, take a break, then make the rounds again. It’s easy to stay busy when you can’t make a decision.

But as of this month, we’re creating a hub again.

We didn’t buy a house, or settle on our “happily ever after” place. We haven’t retired, and we’re not working full-time either.

One of the locations where we’ve worked on a regular basis has individual clinic housing available that we can use with a limited commitment, so we’re taking the offer of housing, more stability, and a space to unpack, for the first time in a long time.

My personal commitment to Alaska is on the horizon. I have roughly four years to go to my next decade, and that’s the timeline I’m working with.

While I’m slightly giddy about seeing my Kitchen Aid again, spreading out, and having access to all my wardrobe in one place, this decision also serves other needs.

There’s no doubt we’ll be here more regularly, even though I expect we’ll still be working in other locations on occasion. It will be good to have a part in adding stability to this clinic. We’re not indispensable…no one is…but we have a contribution to make.

The other thing I’ve realized is: I need some stillness in my life.

In the past year I wrote a book, launched a site, I’m creating an online course, and I’m developing webinars and videos. All of it was done between working in three different locations, traveling back and forth cross-country, and trying to make sure I had the right clothes for the right season and occasion in my trusty roller bags.

Some days I’m disheartened because I have so much I want to do, and I feel so slow at accomplishing.

I finally recognized I’m never going to progress unless I slow down and carve out some space, and time. I’ve been telling myself if I’m focused, if I want to take my online work to the next level, I just have to try harder, be more determined.

What I really need is to slow down a bit. I need to be in the same place for more than two weeks at a stretch. I need to spend more time writing, and less time packing.

I need to set up my little home studio and leave it in place, rather than trying to cart it around with me. I need to use the timeline I set for Alaska as the timeline for my personal work goals as well.

Even as I write this, we’ve got more travel lined up for the fall. But I think the difference is in my mindset. There’s a place in this home that’s just right for a little creative nook, and I’m excited to have more time to invest in the work I’ve committed to.

So much about the last decade has been unexpected. To be honest, that pretty much sums up my experience of Alaska. Unexpected. Some good, some not-so-good. But this is a twist I hope will be in the first category.

And maybe my roller bags will get a well-earned break. 🙂

~ Sheila

 

 

My country, ’tis of thee…

It’s been a while since I wrote on this site. Life has been full of travel, recruiting, day jobs, and family.

I had intended to do a post about fish and chips, a follow-up to the last post on fishing. I wanted to be light-hearted and fun.

But today I don’t feel light-hearted, and I want to say why.

I like to think I’m patriotic. Not in the grating, super-power-proud-gloating sense, but in the tear-up-when-I-see-a story-of-American-heart-and-American-goodness sense. Whenever I’ve been out of the country and I feel the touch-down of the plane’s wheels on American soil, no matter the point of entry, I always breathe a little welcome sigh, a recognition of being “home.” I love so many of the things that Americans sheepishly acknowledge…speaking generically, we really are a melting pot. We love corny things, little guys winning uphill battles, we value fairness and people standing up to challenge wrongs. There’s a segment of the population that’s sophisticated, by the going standard, for sure, but I think the majority of us are still focused on the basics…family, making a life for our kids, being part of communities that need good people and good ethics.

Which brings me to my moral dilemma. As the events of the last few days have unfolded, I’m reminded, again, that we have two candidates for the highest office in the land, and I can’t vote for one, and won’t vote for the other. The order of which names fit with “can’t” and “won’t” change from time to time, but the bottom line is the same. No options.

I would love to see a woman in the office of president, but not this woman. I can’t get past the enormous sums of wealth this candidate and her family have accumulated in public service, with no visible sign of creating anything of value, other than influence and favors. I’ve seen estimates of net worth from $30 million up to $111 million. Add that to the decades of scandal and charges of corruption that have followed this family, and I just can’t vote for more of the same. I’m sure there is some truth and some hype, but really, can’t we do better? From the beginning of this election cycle, through the primary season when so many of the contests looked unfairly rigged, there’s been a sense that this was a choice made for voters, rather than by voters. There’s nothing right about that.

A lot of my distaste comes from exhaustion. I wish politicians had the grace to move off the stage after a few years, but it seems almost no one does any more. I am fiercely opposed to political dynasties. I believe allowing multiple family members to milk the political system off name recognition and shared influence gives unfair advantage and access to a process that should be based on merit and work, not who one is married to, born to, or otherwise related to.

And the other candidate…well, I just can’t go there either.

I understand we’re electing a president, not a pope (I read that little nugget recently). I understand we’re all human, we all have faults and flaws, and who am I to judge, anyway? I’ll tell you who I am: I’m a voter. And while I accept that any human being is far from perfect, I want to elect someone who has aspiration toward high standards, who I can look up to and feel that at least they’re attempting to be a person of honor.

I’m sure that all people in places of leadership have their bad moments, lapses in judgment, and say things they regret. I do all that too. We all do. But I’m not proud of those moments when I fall short. I don’t go around bragging on myself that I got away with bad behavior, or find myself expressing remorse because I got caught at something and now have to try to look sorry, whether I really am or not.

I understand that in many ways, culturally we’ve done away with moral standards, with the traditional “rights” and “wrongs” of past eras. Or maybe we haven’t. Maybe we’ve told ourselves we’re all grown up now, so sophisticated we don’t pass judgement on anyone anymore. Live how you want, say what you want, just don’t get caught on camera or mic, right?

I think our culture has an up-close view of what that looks like in a potential leader, and we’re disgusted with what we see…and who we’ve become, to some extent. Maybe the reason so many are outraged with this candidate is that he is a self-indictment, in many ways.

After all, morality either matters, or it doesn’t. Crude language is either acceptable, or it isn’t. Politicians either have private lives, or they don’t. We can’t really have it both ways.

Personally, I believe when someone offers themselves up for the highest office in the land,  for that time, they don’t have a private life. Their children should be off limits, but anyone running for the office of president should be prepared for every word and action to come under a microscope. And if they’re not, maybe they should not invite the scrutiny of the world. I’m not saying that’s fair, or even right. But in this day of ever-present media, and no subject off limits, that’s the way it is.

Honestly, I would be glad to not be privy to the personal details of candidates’ lives…I don’t want to know all the nitty-gritty. But that’s not the culture we live in, when anything and everything is fair game for dinner table conversation and social media posts.

I wish the wise people who founded this nation had given us a blueprint for this scenario: what to do when we want a do-over, but don’t want to create a constitutional crisis or a revolutionary change. I don’t want to see anything like that happen. I do want a way out of this dilemma.

Personally, I would be happy to see the vice-presidential candidates take over the top of the ticket.

Or if we can’t take that approach, maybe we can launch a write-in candidate via social media to win the most votes? Who will step forward to save us from these two? Anyone? Anyone?

Going forward, I think we need to create constitutional amendments that provide two things:

Term limits to two election cycles…I don’t care if you run for dog-catcher, two terms and you’re out. Whatever benefit accrues from having people in office who know the system are far outweighed by having people in office who corrupt the system.

Only one family member can be president, period. This may seem unfair and arbitrary, but I think we could go a long way toward fixing the political dynasty issue if we took the top prize off the table, once someone in the family has had it. Enough already. Go home, go away, just go! There’s a whole country full of people who are potential candidates. Let someone else step up to bat.

I know there are people who believe in both these candidates, who will vote for them for various reasons, and I understand that…we all have to vote our own consciences. For me, this is a year of none of the above. I’m not excited about the third party candidates either, and realistically, we’re not at a point in our politics where that makes a difference. No third party candidate has enough traction to matter, at least not yet.

Maybe the lessons of this election cycle, on both sides, will be that choosing candidates wisely is important. By the time we’re at this stage of the process, it’s too late to get picky…we’re stuck, voting for undesirables, or voting for no one.

It’s rare that I feel much angst politically. Usually I just tell myself that things will work out, and of course, life goes on, as I’m sure it will, whatever the November election brings. But after such a season, I hope there’s a national call for change to some of our process so we don’t find ourselves here again.

Surely, we can do better than this. We deserve better, our children deserve better. It’s time to look in the mirror, and face what we’ve allowed.

 

 

Come visit Story Revisioned

Hello! If you’re wondering what’s happening with Grace and Life, it’s largely been on hiatus, resting while I’ve worked on a new site, Story Revisioned. Grace and Life will continue, but I hope you’ll also check out the kid on the block, and let me know what you think.

Story Revisioned grew out of my growth. As an author, I know the value of revising my work. As a human being, I know the power of using vision to revise my personal story, my life story.

The junction of these two realities…that every life requires revision, and revisions are best designed using vision and intention…Story Revisioned is the result. I wanted to create a place, a home, to exchange stories with readers. And I wanted to create a site which allows me to offer what I’ve learned, what I’m still learning. You see, these aren’t just stories to entertain…they’re stories with meaning, with a point to make, or an overcoming to celebrate.

You’ll find helps and encouragement, tools and inspiration at Story Revisioned. I hope you’ll find challenges too, ideas worth sharing, and making your own.

Please visit and look around, wander through the pages, stop and leave a comment if you’d like. Better yet, leave your story. My hope is that visitors will feel welcome and empowered, nurtured and stimulated by what’s offered. We’ll all learn from each other, shall we? I’d be honored if you sign up to follow by email. You’ll find opportunity to do that, as well as a welcome gift, when you follow this link.

See you over there!

~Sheila

Political discourse

I’ve never used my blog to express political opinion. That isn’t my focus here, and I don’t want it to become my focus.

But I must say, this year: I’m disheartened, saddened, disappointed, by both major parties, and the candidates.

What has happened to our process? How have we allowed candidates to become so coarse, so small and petty? Where is the dignity the highest office in the land should inspire, and demand?

How can we have candidates for the office of president who are there as much for who they’re related to as for their own achievements? We’re not a country founded on political dynasties. I don’t think that’s what we should seek or allow now. Political dynasties are bad for the country: too much influence peddling, too much opportunity for unfair advantage and cronyism.

What is wrong with our political process when the major parties can manipulate the use of party delegates, “super delegates,” to offset the voice of individual voters? And why is the process so convoluted and complex it seems few can really understand it, much less navigate it?

Why do we need more than a year for our election process? Other countries seem to be able to have an election within a few weeks or months. And why do we need to pour massive sums of money into whole thing? Isn’t there a better way to spend money? It’s so expensive to campaign for office. Have we allowed the Presidency to be reduced to a prize that can be bought? Or to become an office that only the wealthiest and best connected can aspire to?

I enjoy political theater, and it’s interesting when the unexpected happens or a dark horse candidate suddenly breaks free from the pack.

But I’m appalled to see our political process has become just one more reality TV show, full of immature and narcissistic egos, insults, false statements, and bluster. Such conduct belittles us all. How can we as a country expect to be taken seriously by other countries and leaders when our politicians act as they do? When what they say in the setting of national debates sounds like talk from middle schoolers? And they expect voters to believe in them? To believe in their wisdom, their insight, their ability to be calm and collected in times of stress and threat? Do we want these people directing our military?

In election seasons, people often refer to the Founding Fathers, going back to the vision they had for government and the structure they put in place. When I think of the leaders of that time and compare what we have now, the people we look to as leaders, I’m shocked by how far we’ve fallen.

Those people weren’t perfect. They had flaws too, often obscured by the veil of time and the romantic haze of sentiment that colors our view of that era.

But…

They were articulate, educated, thoughtful, far-seeing, and principled. They cared about more than personal gain or risk. And for whatever faults they had, they accomplished a Herculean feat. They designed and built a new country.

They had honor.

Maybe we expect too much from our leaders…we expect them to please all of us, to have the right background, the right education, to be attractive, personable, charming, witty, good in front of the camera. Maybe honesty and integrity are dispensable characteristics, but they must be entertaining to watch, able to generate ratings. That’s the message we seem to send to the candidates we approve by vote tallies.

At the very least, I would like my leaders, specifically the leader in the role of President, to be an honest person, someone of integrity.

I don’t expect to agree with the President on every front. That would be impossible, and even unfair. This person has to lead a huge body of people, and we’re all going to be on the losing side of decisions from time to time. No one can please us all.

I don’t even have to like the person who is President. That would be nice, but what I really want is to look at this person and believe they’re doing the best they can, acting out of principle, and conscience, and strength.

I don’t care if we have a male or female as President. Other countries have had women leaders, decades ago, and they did very well representing their countries and their parties. But I don’t want this office to be a prize given for the sake of historic gesture. I don’t care about color or gender, spouse or no spouse, career achievements or alma mater. I care about choosing the best person for the job. Period.

I do care, very much, about the character of the person we elect. For those who say character doesn’t matter, I say, it is almost the only thing that matters to me. I don’t expect perfection. How could I? No one could meet that standard. I don’t expect that candidates have mistake-free personal lives…in fact, I don’t want to know all that much about their personal lives. I think they have a right to some privacy. But I do expect people who aspire to the office to have integrity, to do their best, to lead with dignity. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is, at least this year.

Maybe this will be the cycle that helps us to reset…to pull back from the abyss, to say, “what have we done?” Maybe this election season will open the door to serious election reform, to significant and intelligent change.

If that happens, good. We need to give up our addiction to political drama, and reclaim a political system that functions in the interests of the citizens; we need leaders who are serious, who respect the office and the responsibility entrusted to them; and we need to be able to trust our elected officials. We may not agree with every decision, but it would be encouraging to believe the person in the Oval Office acts out of principle, courage, and conviction, rather than playing to the polls, or political posturing. This is not a game.

Or maybe the whole thing has become a game . But it shouldn’t be.

Maybe this is the year to write in “none of the above,” and ask our parties to go back to the starting line, give us better choices. In a land of 300 million plus, surely that’s possible? What does it say of us, the citizen-voters, that we don’t demand better?

We need change at many levels of the process. We need informed voters, and a better way to express our opinions than going through antiquated and convoluted systems, controlled by party elites who have hidden motives and agendas. We need to allow voices to be heard that we disagree with. But we also need to assure everyone that each vote matters…that votes aren’t nullified by party rules and back room deals.

God help us all. It’s a scary world out there, and we need someone we can believe in…someone worthy of trust, worthy of sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

 

My word for 2016

A few years ago I started choosing a word…just one word…to frame my intentions and goals for the coming year. I got the idea from a blog post, and it was a challenge to distill my thoughts, to be succinct.

I think it’s been a useful exercise. My past words have been:

  • 2012: Revision
  • 2013: Momentum
  • 2014: Consistent
  • 2015: Hope

This year…well, what one word could encapsulate the coming year?

I look forward to an amazing year of growth, surprise, challenge, joy, making memories, launching projects, writing, travel, being still, family, friends, work.

I look forward to thriving.

Thrive.

Thrive is my word for the coming year.

I feel on the brink, on the cusp. The last four years have ushered in a sea change for me, bringing so many unforeseen experiences, circumstances…some wonderful, some beyond difficult. Some days I felt like I was flying, others have been a struggle I wasn’t sure I could survive.

Tonight, thinking about what my word would be, I see my life bearing fruit in new ways. This year, I will thrive.

Does that mean there won’t be challenges? I’m sure there will be. What life exists without challenge?

But that’s not the point. The point is, I’m ready for the adventure life has given me. I have grown; I am growing into it!

Join me, if you’d like. I love to hear what word you would choose to describe your hopes for the coming year. It can be enlightening to consider what one word speaks to you. And that’s really the point of the whole thing…evaluate, find a word that will resonate, will capture your essence, where and how you find yourself in this very moment.

Let’s begin, shall we? I’ve got my one word, I’m ready!

~ Sheila