Image Prompt 032 Response: Fairy Wall

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I chose the North Carolina photo for my prompt this week.  I know I took this picture on a trip up to Chimney Rock, but I can’t tell you for sure where it is.

Fairy Wall:

Cary poked his head around the side of the building to see what was in the back.  The little half-shed that probably sheltered the water pump made sense.  The story-and-a-half high wall with the upside down arch made him stop and stare.

“Cary, don’t go too far,” his sister called.  She was supposed to be keeping up with him this week.  They were on a road trip through North Carolina with their aunt and two older cousins.  Cary, the youngest by three years, wasn’t as thrilled about this as everyone else.  He had to sit in the very back of the minivan with no leg room and not much air conditioning.

“I’m just going to look at the backyard,” Cary called back.  If she knew he was just behind the building she shouldn’t come looking for him.

Cary walked carefully around all the spare lumber that was littering the yard.  The building was a tiny little general store type thing.  His oldest cousin had seen the sign and asked to stop.  They’d used the rest rooms and loaded up on drinks and snacks for the rest of the day.  His aunt had wanted to stretch a bit, so she told them to be back at the car in fifteen minutes.

Once he was past what looked like an abandoned barn door, Cary was able to walk normally again.  He was past all the dangerous rusty nails in the old wood and could hurry over to the tiny cinderblock shed and the wall.

The wall was made of natural stones.  Each one a different size and shape.  It didn’t even look like there was any grout.  They just fit together so well that they stayed exactly where they needed to be.

Cary ran is fingers over one of the stones.  It was rough and cool and felt exactly as he’d expected.  It wasn’t covered by moss or damp or anything.  It was just a stone, but Cary wondered how long it had been there.  Who had set it there.  Who had decided that the wall needed to be built?

He looked up and as far as he could tell, it wasn’t part of a wall.  It had always been this height.  The top was smooth and capped by flat stones.  It wasn’t a ruin exactly; it just didn’t make a lot of sense.

Cary edged closer to the well-house, trying to see through the gap made by the upside down arch.  There was a tree growing just on the other side.  Its branches reached out through the arch, but they didn’t go any further left or right than the width of the arch.

A glance at his watch let him know he still have ten minutes before he had to be back at the car.  He pressed on the roof of the well-house to make sure it was sturdy, and then hefted his foot up there so he could push himself up onto the wall where the bottom of the arch was.

Cary clambered up onto the wall, kneeling carefully on the slightly uneven stones.  They’d been worn away a bit and weren’t as smooth and flat as he guessed they were when the wall was first made.

When Cary looked up, his mouth fell open.  His eyes were so wide he could feel them stretching at the corners as he let his eyes rove over the scene before him.

It was like a tiny metropolis out of some fantasy novel.  There were little stone buildings and tiny cobbled streets.  There were tiny parks and something that looked a little like a clock tower that had no clock.  There was something sort of like a church, but there was a symbol he couldn’t quick make out instead of a cross at the top of the steeple tower.

At first, all he saw were the buildings, the streets, and the layout of the place.  It was just so much.  It would have taken ages and ages for someone to build something like this.  Just one of the little stone buildings would have been so complicated and taken so much work and attention to details.

It wasn’t until he’d already slipped off the wall, stepped past the tree, and knelt down beside the nearest building that he realized there were things moving in the tiny city.  And not just animals or bugs or something either.  There were people.  Tiny, perfectly-sized, scaled-to-the-buildings people.

Cary pinched the back of his hand.  This couldn’t be real.  He couldn’t actually be seeing this.

For a second, he thought he heard his sister calling his name, but then one of the little people looked up.

Cary held very still as she gazed up at him.

When she started yelling, he sat back on his heels, startled by the noise.  It sounded like words, but not in a language he knew.

He watched as more and more of the tiny people flooded through the streets toward him.

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Image Prompt 032 – St. Andrew’s & North Carolina Mountains

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

2017-09-08 Image Prompt032-1 - St. Andrews05-03-18 018

2017-09-08 Image Prompt-032-2 - Chimney Rock Trip 05-07-20 031

Self-Care: My Reasons and Strategies

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Self-care is something I see discussed more and more places these days, so I wanted to take a few moments to share with you why I think it’s so important and some of my strategies to make sure I’m doing it properly.

Being overworked seemed to be a constant for many Americans.  With downturns in the economy in 2008 that we still haven’t fully recovered from, more companies are trying to do more with less.  This often means giving one person the work of two or three, or expecting employees to pull long hours to meet deadlines.  Work culture in American, generally speaking, is pretty rough on the employee.

This can lead to a lot of burned out employees.  I’ve worked for companies like this, where everything had to get done, regardless of how few people there were.  It can take a huge toll on you.  Especially if you’re in a position of logistical importance, like IT or a system administrator, where your absence can mean the whole system has gone down.  I’ve been there, done that, and I wasn’t very good about self-care at the time.

So why do I think self-care is important enough to warrant a whole post about it?

Because without self-care I eventually cease to function.

For me, personally, self-care is about keeping myself balanced emotionally, physically, and mentally.  If I don’t take steps to care for myself and just keep trudging through whatever project I have to work on, I will eventually collapse from hunger, fatigue, or an emotional breakdown of some sort or another.  Avoiding any of those three things is high on my list, so I try to keep myself in some semblance of normal, which means employing my self-care strategies.

My new job is much less stress-inducing than my last one, so this isn’t quite as dire a situation as it used to be for me, but I still do my best to stay on top of it.  I still have to remind myself to take time for myself, time for my husband, and time to decompress.

I have lots of strategies for this.  I’ll share a few of them here:

Incorporate Down time:

This doesn’t have to be huge.  It can be a five-minute break to reconnect with someone.  It can be watching a quick cat video between tasks.  Or it could be taking whole day or even a week off.  There’s a reason that the saying “taking a mental health day” is so well known.  It’s important to do, and sometimes just taking a day off to step away from work and relax is super important to keep you functioning well and working at your peak performance level.

Eating Properly:

It’s especially tempting not to eat well when you’re in a hurry, but keeping my meals and snacks regularly timed, varied, not pre-packaged, and lower calorie works much more effectively.  In the immediate, over-eating can make you tired or give you indigestion.  In contrast, I find that eating smaller meals and snacks more often throughout the day allows me to keep my blood sugar on an even keel as well as work towards my weight loss goal.

Balance of Social Time:

Humans are social creatures.  Being alone too much can make me a little loopy, but so can mot being alone enough.  You have to find a balance that works for you.  Do you need to see people most of the time and take an occasional break?  Or are you an introvert who still needs to be around people every so often?

I’m a bit of a mix really.  If I don’t get about half an hour to be alone in a room with my thoughts every day, I go a little but nuts.  Similarly, if I’m stuck alone for ten straight days with nothing but low level interactions with shop clerks and restaurant staff, I go more than a bit nuts.  Both of these extremes of contact levels affect me.  So I have strategies to prevent them.  I’ve let all my family know that I need a little alone time each day, so if it’s a big family gathering and I disappear, they let me stay missing for half an hour.  Ten straight days alone doesn’t come up as often (but there was a memorable week and a half during my study abroad semester…) but I also consciously remain aware of this and schedule things so that I don’t have these long gaps between seeing people.

Make Time for Friends and Family:

This ties in a bit with the above, but interacting with coworkers or students at work seems to fill my minimal interaction needs, so this is a separate consideration.  It’s important to maintain the relationships in my life, so I make a conscious effort to make extra time for friends where I can, try to go home to visit my parents, sister, and niece at least every few months, and I have reminders on my phone about spending quality time with my partner.  Yes, it’s probably a little weird that I have to have a reminder to spend time with someone I live with, but it’s important for me because neither of us is great about verbalizing or noticing when we aren’t getting enough attention from the other, so having a reminder each week that asks if I’ve spent that quality time yet that week has been working really well for us.

Make Time for Hobbies:

Writing is technically one of my hobbies.  I also make jewelry, sew, and do a little craft-level painting of things like wooden boxes, pots for plants, and the like.  I also love paint-your-own-pottery shops when I can find them.

Having the blog helps make sure I’m doing at least a minimum amount of writing each week.  I also host a weekly write-in, which is basically just a gathering of writers at a little restaurant/bakery that we like.  So that’s two ways that I make sure I’m writing frequently.

The other hobbies are a little more sporadic.  I tend to make jewelry more in December in the lead up to Christmas since it makes great gifts for people.  The others are a bit hit and miss at the moment.  Sewing is the hardest to keep up with because it requires more time, planning, and space than the others.  However, I did just get my grandmother’s Singer passed down to me (she’s still around, she just doesn’t sew anymore).  It’s built into a table that folds open so I have some of the space I need without it always taking up so much room.  She also passed down a bunch of material she hadn’t used yet, so I have a lot of projects ready to be made.

Have Someone to Talk to:

For some people, there is a friend or family member they can turn to for this.  For me, this means having a counselor or therapist.  I had a few in college, and then didn’t have one for a long time.  I was going through a lot of stressful transitions in my life recently, so I found a new therapist.  She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  Sadly, she’s left private practice, and I have to find a new therapist.  I’ve identified a couple options, but have been procrastinating on actually calling someone to start again.  I was with my last therapist for a little over a year and she was really great.  Finding a new one is intimidating because I have to establish the relationship and trust all over again.  However, putting off finding a new one is affecting me.  My partner has already noticed an increase in some of my less desirable behaviors that are usually stress induced.  So getting set up with a new therapist is a must do for me, and I’ve given myself a deadline of next Friday.

A comment on therapy in general:

I believe that everyone can benefit from therapy at some point in their life.

Therapy isn’t just about mental illness and it’s certainly not about needing medication.  Therapy is about having a neutral third party to talk through issues with.  Well, maybe not neutral, because they want you to do well and grow during therapy, but someone not immediately involved in the situation.  Sometimes, a friend or family member can be that for you, but a lot of times they are too close to the situation themselves, so you need someone further from the situation.

Take Care of Your Body:

There are the general things, like eating right and exercising, that are a huge benefit to your overall health and wellbeing.  There are also less obvious things.  Stretching throughout the day, looking away from your monitor every twenty minutes or so, or if you sit at work, getting up and moving around periodically.  I have a set up so I can stand at my desk at work, so I have to make sure to take a little time to sit down during the day.

I’ve also had back issues for a long time, so doing my physical therapy exercises every day and being very aware of my body and my posture so I don’t stress my back (which ends up leading to a pinched nerve and lots of leg pain) is something I have to really watch myself with.  I also shouldn’t lift anything heavy, by which I mean more than twenty-five pounds.  That one is really hard since I’ve always been able to help lift things or carry furniture, or haul my own stuff around before.

I’m always looking for more strategies:

What do you do for your own self-care?  I’d love to hear some of your strategies or your thoughts on any of mine.

Total Solar Eclipse August 2017

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On August 21, 2017, I had the amazing good fortune to be just outside Simpsonville, SC, right in the path of totality for the solar eclipse that crossed the United States.  This was a rare chance to see something truly amazing, and I wasn’t going to miss it.  When my partner realized his parents lived in the path of totality more than a year ago, we made plans to go down.  I’d requested the day off work more than a year in advance.

Leading up to the eclipse there was plenty of news coverage and lots of warnings about not looking directly at the sun without proper eye protection.  Eclipse glasses were available at eye doctors, libraries, planetariums, and schools all over the country.  Our family ordered them online, and they even had the date of the eclipse printed on them.

I’ve never had a chance to see an eclipse before.  When I was in fourth grade there was a partial solar eclipse where I lived in Michigan.  No students were allowed outside during the event.  Cheap solar glasses weren’t something you could get back then.  My teacher did a pin-hole camera so she could go out and look and then draw a picture on the board for us.

That paled in comparison to looking up at the sun through my special glasses (which are a pain when combined with prescription glasses, by the way).  I got to watch the moon move across the sun and see the light begin to dim around me.

The best part though, was totality.  For just under two minutes, we were able to take off our special glasses and stare up at our sun.  The moon was a dark disc across the solar surface, but the light shown out around it, peaking through around mountains and valleys on the lunar surface.  For just a couple minutes, I got to see something rare and precious that demonstrated scale and distance in the universe.

In those moments, I felt both small and insignificant, and part of something so large, so universal, that it seemed to have no boundaries at all.  Many would frame this feeling within their religious experience, and there was an element of that for me, but it was also something more fundamental.  I was one of thousands of people looking up at that moment and one of millions who witnessed totality that day.  I was in the presence of a dozen or so others experiencing the moment with me.  I was part of something in that moment.

Anello_di_diamante     And those two minutes were worth it.

They were worth the six hour drive down to South Carolina from my home in Raleigh, NC.  They were worth the vacation time I had to take to be there.  They were worth the seven-and-a-half-hour drive home that ended after midnight.  They were totally and completely worth it.

So worth it, in fact, that my family and I are already thinking about the next total solar eclipse and where we might want to go so we can watch that one too.  We were so lucky on Monday that the sky was mostly clear, and the clouds didn’t interfere with our viewing the eclipse during totality.  People talk about a total solar eclipse as a once in a lifetime chance.  And in many ways they’re right, but it doesn’t have to be.  I’m aiming for at least twice in a lifetime.

Were you able to witness the eclipse on Monday?  If not locally, did you watch the coverage available?  What did you think?

Image Attributions:

Image within Blog: Anello_di_diamante by Walty1971

Cover Image: SolarEclipseDiamondRing by Tuanna2010

Image Prompt 031 Response: The Spaces Between

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I tried to incorporate both images this week as an extra challenge for my twenty-minute sprint.

 

Title: The Spaces Between

She existed in the spaces between things.

She was there where the seas met the land, washing back and forth across the sand and rock and slowly wearing away at it all.

She was there when nature was reclaiming a human structure, blurring the line between built and grown.

She had always been there.  It wasn’t until recently that She questions where She was or how long She had been there.

Not until She met a girl.

She had always been, this was very true, but She had never been seen before, never been met before, and never met anyone before.  She’d never paid any attention to the humans, only the boundaries they erected and the spaces they opened for her.

She’d been enjoying the slow cheap of nature over a set of wooden steps cut into a hill.  It was a slow process, but She took great joy in each infinitesimal piece of the world that was opened to her as the transformation from newly constructed stairs to overgrown relic occurred.  The stairs were almost entirely hers when She was first seen.

“I’ve seen you before,” the little girl said.  “You were at the beach when we went.”

She was at every beach, so this was probably true.  She did wonder what the little girl was talking to.

“Can’t you hear?” the little girl asked.

She focused her attention on the girl.  Long hair was plaited into two twin braids that hung down the back of the small human.  The girl wore colorful rubber boots that came up to her knees, purple leggings, and a flowing green shirt.

“Is that a no?”

She tilted, curious about this tiny human.

“So you can hear me,” the little girl said confidently.  “You could answer you know.”

Answer?  She had never conversed with another living creature.  She knew language.  She knew all language.  It was around her all the time.  She could not help but learn the meaning of the words the humans used all the time.  She did not even know if She could speak, so She simply tilted in the other direction.

“Maybe you can’t talk then,” the girl said thoughtfully, squatting down to look at the third stair.  “You’re pretty though, and you always feel nice when I have to move through you for some reason.

She wasn’t sure what to make of this little girl talking to her.  How was She even visible to the child?  No human had ever acknowledged her presence before.

“I was hoping you’d be a fairy or something,” the little girl said.  “Someone I could talk to and confide in.”

She swayed slightly.  She didn’t know what to do about the girl.  Was it dangerous to be seen?  It was for many animals, as well as many humans.  Should She trust that She was safe being seen by the girl?

“I guess I could still talk to you,” the little girl said, “even if you can’t talk back.”

She waited, and listened, and marveled at all that the girl had to say.  And then She began to wonder about herself.  The girl talked about being from somewhere and having parents.  Where had She come from?  Did She have parents?  She couldn’t remember anyone else like her.  It was just the animals and the humans, who were just another kind of animal.  There was no one else.  It was such a solitary existence.  She’d never realized that before.

The girl kept coming back.  Every afternoon, the girl would stop at the stairs and speak at length about her day or week or something that was bothering her.

She didn’t understand it at all, but the girl’s voice was soothing enough, and there was no sign of harm coming from their interaction.  Unless self-reflection could be considered harmful.  She had been doing much reflecting on her existence and where She had come from.

She still moved in all the places between.  She still lurked in the places the humans had forgotten.  She still sought the future that would hold the world safe, but every afternoon, when the little girl came, She would listen.

She thought there was something to learn from the girl.  Some lesson or meaning.  It made her think of the human saying, truth out of the mouths of babes.  The girl was quite young, her vocabulary not fully developed yet, but She felt the little girl spoke in truths in a way that few humans did.

So She listened, absorbing what the little girl talked about each afternoon and slowly beginning to understand the deeper meaning of words and their ability to convey far more than their typical meaning.

Image Prompt 031 – Ireland’s Atlantic Coast & Boone, NC

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

2017-08-11 Image Prompt-031-2 - Stadium Drive in Boone NC October 027

2017-08-11 Image Prompt031-1 - Atlantic Ocean Shamrocker Tour05-04-23 033

Being Away

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So I’ve been out of town for fourteen days now, and I’ll be out of town for another two.

The first week, was a wonderful vacation with my husband and his family (you can see a little about that in last week’s post).  The second Sunday and Monday were spent hanging out in Louisville, KY before my conference (Tuesday-Friday).  And this coming weekend we’re spending with college friends in Knoxville, TN.

You’d think that this would be a great way to spend two weeks.  For me, not so much.  I’m a bit of a home body, so being away for so long can get a little exhausting.

The first week was a pretty relaxing vacation with my family.  I had a ton of fun and really had a chance to recharge.  So I was going into the second week feeling pretty good.  But as of today (and I actually wrote this earlier Friday morning), I’m in my fourth of five bedrooms for the sixteen-day trip.  I’m really sick of packing and unpacking my stuff at this point and I miss my own bed and my cat.

I’m not intending this as a complaint, just a comment on how stressful traveling can be, especially to multiple locations in the same trip.  Overall, I’m incredibly glad that I’ve done this trip.  Yes, I’d have preferred to have a week in between them, but I wouldn’t give up the time with my family or my first conference experience to get it.

I’ve had a lot of firsts this week.  It’s my first visit to Louisville, KY (it’s been quite enjoyable), my first professional conference, and I gave my first conference presentation.  This is all related to my day job, not my writing, but it’s a really good experience.  It gives me an idea of how I would handle attending a writing conference and how big of one I would be comfortable with.

There was video recording during my presentation, and I was able to completely ignore the camera and focus on being a good presenter.  I wasn’t all by myself up there, which made me feel less nervous, but I felt good while I was up there and I’ve gotten some really positive feedback from other attendees and the conference organizers.

This has been a huge confidence boost, since I wasn’t sure going into this how useful my presentation would be to others.  Hearing that they enjoyed it and found it helpful has been great.  And I’ve even been asked to do it as a webinar again later, which is pretty exciting.

So despite my bout of homesickness, I’m really grateful for the trip and for how well it has all gone.  I’m looking forward to my visit with friends this weekend too.

I’d love to hear about your adventures.  What’s the hardest part about traveling for you?  Or tell me about a time you’ve had a very successful trip or conference.