A New Focus for the New Year?

I am just wondering if a shift of focus might help.

Practice makes perfect, so the more you repeat an action or even a thought, the more likely is that action or thought to become consolidated.  After all, wherever we direct our attention, there our physical and mental resources flow.  Everybody knows that.

Or do we?

It occurs to me that we spend a lot of our time and energy fighting against things we don't want.  Perhaps more than necessary.  Perhaps more than building, nurturing, creating the things we want. So much of our focus and energy goes on being anti what we hate or dread that I question how much energy we have left on focusing on being pro what we actually want.  Do we have sufficient time and energy to focus on both with equal effectiveness? It's a question that has been buzzing in my head for some time now.  Speaking for myself, I certainly do not.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I get the impression there are more marches and demonstrations against unwanted situations and wrongdoings than in favour of desired or just ones.  Of course, when something blatantly wrong happens, I feel that peacefully voicing your disagreement or sense of outrage is the right thing to do.  But once this opinion is expressed, shouldn't the next step be to focus all our strength on building what we actually want?

When I was a small child, my mother had a UNICEF desk calendar with a quotation for every month.  One stuck in my mind, even though at the time I couldn't understand what it meant.  "Problems, like babies, grow bigger with nursing." I cannot remember who said it and only several decades later do I understand more fully the meaning and wisdom of this sentence.

It seems Mother Teresa once said, "I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me."  Nobody could possibly doubt Mother Teresa's commitment to world peace.  I can only suppose that the reason she refused to attend anti-war rallies was because she disagreed with the focus – however kindly and justly intended – of these rallies. The focus of any anti-something act is one of opposition.  Like pushing against something.  Could it just be possible – and that's just an idea – that by pushing hard against it we unintentionally end up supporting it? Feeding it? Strengthening it by giving it so much of our attention that we somehow consolidate it even further?

Surely, for focus to be unwavering, then we need to choose very carefully – no, we cannot be both in equal strength – whether we want to fight what we don't want or build what we want. 

As a year of much darkness, ignorance, stupidity and senseless waste draws to a close, I am hoping for a 2018 with the following:

Replacing anti-Brexit stands with pro-Europe commitment.

Replacing every retweet of a bully or genuinely incompetent politician with a tweet about a wise, kind or simply happily comical individual.  Plants that aren't watered wither.  Let's stop fuelling destructive individuals with too much attention.  Instead, let's lavish our attention on those we want to play more prominent roles in our society.

TV and Radio stations where 50% of news headlines broadcast good, encouraging items.  Yes, there are some, if news editors are willing to look.

Rather than anti-sexual harassment protests, pro-respect and gender equality rallies.

This list could go on and on and on...

One step at a time, we can shift our focus, and, consequently, change things for the better.

Together, we can do it.

So let's.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy, wealthy, fulfilling New Year.

Scribe Doll

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My Last Annual Christmas Letter?


Christmas 2017

Dear Friends and Relatives,

Perhaps our greatest blessing in 2017 was Erin's giving birth to our first great granddaughter—Caroline Marie Simons in Belton, Texas, on June 1. A couple weeks later Caroline's daddy Joshua had to return to South Korea, and we are eagerly awaiting his return in early 2018. We were able to see Erin and meet Roxanne, Josh's mother (from Minnesota and Oregon), at a baby shower in Johnston City, and then we met Caroline herself the first of August. Now we are eagerly awaiting a second visit for Christmas. Erin returned to teaching with the help of a superb caretaker—her mama Vickie. Vickie goes home on the weekend—wherever home is as she and Gerry have been on the move this year.

Sadly, in February we lost Keith, Gerald's youngest brother, from congestive heart disease. Having their only sister Ernestine and husband Don Gamble come from Wyoming was a comfort. We lost his brother Ken in 2008, so that makes us really appreciate his brother Garry. (Garry continues their father's practice of growing food for others, and we are glad because the sweet corn he gave us was so delicious!) My brother Jim, age 89, had some serious heart concerns this year, but he and Vivian remain in their home in Mattoon. Their son Robert stayed with them for several months to help; and when he had to join his wife who was also having health problems, their two local daughters and granddaughters are right there giving care. Their church helps and even brings the Lord's Supper to their home. My sister Rosemary, age 92, and husband Phil are doing well in Amarillo. Rosemary plays the organ for church services, and even goes to Tai Chi twice a week! Yes, they still serve Friday night supper to their large family.

Our lives continues to be saddened (heart broken) by Katherine's advanced multiple sclerosis, which keeps her largely bed fast in her home in Marion. Fortunately, her bedroom looks out over the city park and adds a little more interest to her life than just the television.placed high for her vision and the phone clamped to her bed. She is so intelligent and interested in life that it is painful for me to think of her limitations and life of pain. Her son Sam is now a junior at Baylor in Waco majoring in English and philosophy. He interned this summer in Austin teaching language arts to 8th graders, and he loved it. This fall he had a morning class teaching high school sophomores, and he liked that too. He studies hard and still lives in a house with a group of guys from his church, but he likes to travel as much as possible. He is home for Christmas.

The Eilers--our middle daughter Jeannie and husband Rick--still teach and coach at Freeport. In addition to heading the math department at the high school, Rick also coached his Pretzel track team to state first place last spring. Jeannie rides her bike whenever she can, and she helped create a women's conference for her church again last summer. She teaches over 500 K-5 kids in two different schools, which sounds impossible to me. It keeps her working much too hard, but I bet those lucky kids are getting a good exposure to expressing themselves through art. Leslie Thompson, their eldest, and her husband Mike just moved from their first house which they renovated in Nashville and into a beautiful home in Mt. Juliet. They are hosting the Eiler family's Christmas. Mike is on the Nashville police force; Leslie “went rogue” in January with her own business.(https://www.lesliethompson.com or just google her name.) Elijah is in his second year teaching visually impaired kids for the Chicago Public School system. He also taught one class of language arts for 8 weeks last spring, and I loved hearing about that. After an exciting senior year of high school, Cecelie went to Kolkata, India, last summer on a mission trip and helped care for babies and children there. She now attends Highland Community College and continues working part-time at a local thrift store. 

We pass the farm home of our youngest daughter Mary Ellen and husband Brian Taylor on our way to town, and it is good to have them so close. Brian works in an office at their home but goes to St. Louis when necessary. He also farms and had outstanding crop yields this year. Mary Ellen continues working for House2Home and also edits their monthly magazine. Both Trent and Brianna will graduate on the same day this spring! Trent heads up SIUC's cyber security team, which has done extremely well in national competitions. He also works part time on campus with something about the Internet that I do not understand and also for AMC theater in Marion. Last summer he interned at the AMC headquarters in Kansas City, and Brianna studied in Grenada, Spain, as part of her TESOL training at Murray University. This fall she had a class helping children learn English and she loved it, and she will have the same kids this spring as she does her student teaching,

Gerry and Vickie sold their home in College Station and moved for the summer into a cabin on acreage near the city but with land and lakes for three grandsons and bird dogs to enjoy. Then their daughter Tara and husband Bryan Archibald moved to Normal in September when Tara became assistant softball coach at Illinois State. Our three Archibald great grandsons—Aidan, Maddux, and Payton—are an enormous pleasure to us (and to athletic teams wherever they live) and we are happy they are closer to Woodsong. Bryan continues to work out of his home but now is closer to his company's headquarters--also closer to his family! Gerry spent the summer coaching the Scrap Yard Dawgs of Houston and won the National Professional Fast Pitch championship. Then he accepted associate softball coach at Auburn University in Alabama and was in the process of buying a house there when University of Louisiana at Lafayette came calling. With the kindness of Auburn's head coach Mickey Dean and many others, he was able to become head softball coach at ULL. It has been an exciting transition. Mary Ellen and Gerald made a quick trip down to the press conference announcing his appointment. Now Gerry and Vickie are looking for a house there. Geri Ann graduated from the University of Oregon in June and began work this fall at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Portland. She loves Oregon and her new job. She made it to Illinois for Erin's baby shower and another time for a friend's wedding, but those visits were too short. We are so excited she will be here for Christmas.

Gerald continues to amaze me—cleaning ditches, mowing an ever enlarging lawn, coping with a burned tractor when a bird built a nest inside it, refurbishing our porch furniture, putting up a 70' tower for better Internet reception, replacing 16-year-old faucets in our “new” house. He took time out for two cataract surgeries and has aches and pains like he is supposed to at age 87. Yet we enjoyed tomatoes, okra, blackberries, asparagus, strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon from his garden, which he plants, cares for, and harvests with no help from me. When I can't keep up with freezing the excess, he takes it to town to share with those in need. He continues to enjoy Union County breakfasts “with the boys,” and we both love it when his classmate phones about an informal reunion at Anna's Mexican restaurant. A summer highlight was enjoying the total eclipse from our deck with Bob and Sylvia Mountz of Arizona. Sylvia was one of the nine Fisher kids at the state forest next to Gerald's family farm in Union County. We also enjoyed a 25th reunion of our Baptist Student Union friends at Giant City Lodge in September, and we attended a Godwin family reunion at the park by the Mississippi River in Grand Tower as did all of Gerald's Wenger cousins.

I realized I had truly gotten old when Gerry's A&M team and Geri Ann's Oregon team, where she was a student coach, both made it to the World Series in Oklahoma City in June, and I accepted I would be better off watching games on television than trying to do all the walking required if we attended. This summer I completed some dental work and had many health tests mostly coming back good. So recently I finally had time to start physical therapy again to improve my balance and walking ability-- problems tests showed caused by arthritis and cartilege wear. I am doing better but still use a cane at night and when I leave the house. Hearing loss distresses me despite wearing aids. I celebrated my 84th birthday on Thanksgiving Day. I have continued to blog as I have for 12 years now, but instead of twice a week, it is more likely to be only every two or three weeks. Several years ago a group in California began a website called Red Room and invited writers and would-be writers to publish with them. I accepted as did President Obama. I posted my blog Woodsong Notes there and made many dear Internet friends from California, Maine, Ireland, Greece, London, and other places far from Woodsong. When Red Room closed, someone created a Facebook spot for Red Room alumni to keep in touch. Another writer and her son in England created Green Room, and many of us post there. Anne Born has a publishing company in New York and a fascinating life riding subways there and walking Camino de Santiago (The way of Saint James) in Spain. Last year she invited us to contribute to her book These Summer Months: Stories from the Late Orphan Project about coping with the deaths of parents. My article in that was “Grieving Clyde and Kate.” This year her second volume for this project These Winter Months closed with the poem “Gone” about my parents. Both are available on Amazon as is her newest book. In 2018, my goal is to finally get back and finish some family history writing that I had to give up a couple years ago. Consequently, I may have to stop blogging; but if so, you can find past entries at https:sueglasco.blogspot.com. Also a story about George Cozby and the Jonesboro Cemetery that I had written in 1954 was republished in the Union County Historical Society newsletter.

Here is my annual scripture gift. It is one you probably know by heart. Enjoy thinking about it: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16.

Love and Merry Christmas, Sue

P.S. I apologize for the length of this letter but figure people can pick out the names of those they are interested in. But since so many changes happened to our family and I may not have the energy to do Christmas cards next year, I thought you might want to know the current status of our family members. I am always envious of friend Wendell Garrison's holiday letter. He has more to report on than I do, and he does it so briefly and yet I feel “caught up” with his family. Ah well.....I have tried to imitate him, but I can't do it.

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Qi Gong

It's the same every morning.  I negotiate my way out of bed and, eventually, brave the steep Munchkin stairs and stagger into the kitchen.  I put the kettle on, wait for the first crackling sound and switch it off.  I pour the water into a mug and go back upstairs, sipping it.  It's pleasantly just short of hot, cleansing, comforting.  I open the curtains in my scriptorium.  The sky is still dark.  For a moment, like every morning, I am tempted to skip the next stage of my morning routine.  That lazy, sneakily undermining voice that says, "What's the rush? You can always do it tomorrow."




Just for ten minutes.

I start deliberately shaking on the spot, sending the movements from my feet through my body and all the way up to my head.  I direct little jolts to every inch of my skin, every organ, every muscle, every vertebra, waking every nook and cranny.  I imagine I am one of those blankets Roman housewives would shake from their windows every morning, when I was a child getting ready for school. They would flap them vigorously.  To banish the dust, evict mites, fill the fabric with fresh air, toss out memories of bad dreams, liven the wool with sunshine.

I quake from toe to top, like a rag doll, loosening every joint, becoming aware of parts of my body I didn't even know existed.  I banish stale air from the hidden recesses of my lungs, evict dark thoughts, fill my cells with imaginary rainbows, toss out all physical and emotional gunk and liven my muscles with a dose of resounding universal YES.

After a few minutes, once I have given every part of my body a good shake, I stop.  It feels wonderful, like being reset, with every nerve tingling and feeling alive.

Then I stand.  Knees soft, head floating into the sky, feet plunging firmly into the earth.  As the tingling subsides, I focus on my breath.  Regular, deep, inhaling from my belly, imagining sunlight filling my lungs.  Trying to think of nothing else.

Ah, I must remember to buy some cheese later –


I forgot to e-mail my friend, yesterday –

I gently bring my mind back to my breath.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Slowly.

If I can finish work by three, I could –

Never mind that for now.  Just breathe.  Slowly.  Regularly.  Let the belly expand, the lungs fill in full, then let the air out, no rush, sense the warmth spread through my body, grow in strength.  I suddenly feel taller.  Towering over the house.

At least ten minutes have gone by without my noticing.  This time, as the breath rises, it carries up my arms.  Effortlessly.  Naturally.  And so I begin the sequence of movements that constitutes the form of Qi Gong I am practising today.

Dragon and Tiger meet.

I'd tried different kinds of yoga over the years – many of my friends swear by its benefits – but it had never agreed with me.  For some reason, it made me feel ungrounded.  I also did pilates for a few months, but it felt like too much effort.  Then I discovered Qi Gong and it's 70% rule of practice.  Always give it your 70%.  No more.  The interesting result is that I end up achieving far more than when I set out to give it my 100%.

Dragon looks to the horizon.

When I first started Qi Gong, I was suffering from yet another episode of adrenal exhaustion, or Yin deficiency, as my Chinese doctor elegantly puts it.  In other terms, your garden variety of burnout, with all its classic symptoms that make life seem unmanageable.  When you wake up every morning, and your heart sinks at the prospect of the day to come as though you have to climb Mont Blanc in summer clothes.  When I enthusiastically asked my teacher how long I should practise every day, he replied, "Five minutes."

I frowned.  Didn't he understand I intended to take Qi Gong seriously?

"Five minutes.  No more," he reiterated.

Tiger crouches.

He was right, of course.  By setting out to do a five-minute practise session at home, I would inevitably end up practising for twenty minutes, then half an hour, and now nearly an hour every morning.  Of course, if, when I wake up, I were to tell myself that I would spend an hour doing Qi Gong, I would simply never start.  So, every morning, as soon as the nagging little voice of laziness and procrastination whispers, "Why don't you leave it till tomorrow?" I cheat it by replying, "I'll only practise for ten minutes. No more."

Three months after I first started Qi Gong, my health was better than it had been for years.  When people asked "How are you?" I could actually reply, in all honesty, "Very well, thank you."

Tiger separates her cubs.

I find that practising Qi Gong has also helped sharpen my focus in other parts of my life, such as work.  Also, the slowness of it is not only very grounding, but also surprisingly empowering.  After a few minutes of practice, I feel like a willow, soft but sturdy, swaying in the strong wind but not breaking.

Tiger pounces.

Most people I mention Qi Gong to don't know what it is, so I explain that it's the mother of Tai Chi.  Many react by saying they couldn't cope with practising such a slow-moving exercise.  I try to tell them that it's that very slowness that makes you feel so in harmony with life, that's so empowering.  The trick is not to build a boat solid enough to withstand a powerful wind without capsizing – it's to weave a sail of silk that can gather the wind in its embrace, so the boat glides faster and more effortlessly.  But, of course, different disciplines are suitable for different people.

Dragon and Tiger pierce heaven and earth.

Outside the scriptorium window, it's now light.  My body feels like a friend, an ally, and I am looking forward to starting my day.

Dragon soars to heaven and brings back the pearl.

And, let's face it, with movements that have such beautiful, poetic names, I'd certainly rather practise Qi Gong than do "press-ups", "push-ups", "weight-lifting" or going on a "treadmill".  But that's just my own, personal choice.

Scribe Doll  

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Spark Plugs and Synonyms

Suppose you had to explain to someone how a car works, but your explanation could only include the parts of the car. That is what writing about language is like.


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