April 2020 Story Sparks


We – like most of you – are sheltering in place. Shelter is such a lovely word with its origin in old English from the word “shield” or another, “structure affording protection” and related to “firm, solid and steadfast.”

That’s what we are being asked to be now, firm, solid and steadfast. My mental health me asks how exactly one is to do that? So I offer you a few tips none of which have I mastered but efforts made each day seem to make me feel solid and steadfast or as T.S. Eliot wrote, able to find “a still place in a turning world.”

  1. Establish some sort of routine. My routine of rising early to write is totally busted. I wake up when I’m no longer tired. I speak silent prayers then read the news on my device before I even get out of bed and quickly move from the horrifying headlines to the YouTube videos of people doing funny things (see mother and son inventing a new game video). Or, I read twitter collections of funny things home school parents are tweeting and for the first time ever, read recipes I will never ever make. It’s now 9:00 am. From there it’s feed the dog, fix my breakfast, walk the dog, answer emails, fix Jerry’s breakfast. It’s now 10:00 am. The day goes on but I have a routine and I have to say it is helping. It includes reading, of course, and prayers like breath throughout.
  2. To shelter well means exercise. I do watch exercise videos. But seriously, I participate in a Zoom class our associate pastor leads on line. At least I have one time and plan to again. And my pilates teacher sent me some “keep it up” exercises that include a ball, one of those stretchy things and daily core work. I’ve heard of gym instructors working from home ala Ipad and a gym somewhere loaned out equipment for clients to use at home. Walks count, right? I wear my mask and listen to birds and watch a couple who walk their dog and also carry an African Grey parrot in a little cage on the man’s back. Sweet. The bird’s name is Dorion. Exercise not only improves one’s health, increases resistance to infections, it also reduces stress and makes one feel good. Especially when you stop. Here’s a website listing lots of places for exercise videos, some free.
  3. Eat well as a way to be solid. Well, at least steadfast. I’ve given myself permission to eat dark chocolate once a day and thanks to my Wisconsin cousin, I’ve found an Omega 3 trail mix with no candy in it, just nuts, seeds and dried fruit that is as good as sugar. Caesar loves the almonds. For the past year or more, I’ve been doing all the cooking at our home. That used to be Jerry’s domain. Self-preservation he called it but he can’t stand that long at a stove and it hurts too much even with his walker to sit on. So he has to endure my creations. So far, he hasn’t lost any weight but that might be due more to Ensure than to me. We are also taking more time to eat slowly. We rarely have anywhere to go, right? Nothing to gobble food down quickly for because we’re here. Being steadfast, filling up as we ask the food to be blessed.
  1. Learn something new. In a study on growing brain cells, I read that even old rats when given new mazes to learn actually grew new brain cells. EVEN OLD RATS! I love that. Being frustrated can actually increase our capacity to problem-solve, be creative, move forward. I stayed on the phone for 8 hours (on hold) at the bank last week. At first I was frustrated but then I realized there were still things I could do on my Iphone even while I was on hold. Get my email. Take other calls (Accept and Hold feature), get on Instagram, answer messages. Read. Walk the dog. I had to concentrate but it worked! No one ever came on and after 8 hours I was cut off. But Saturday morning someone from the bank called me back! And yesterday I mastered the tool that pulls oranges and lemons from the trees in our yard. Maybe I’ll try learning a new language…if you’re homeschooling and helping with math, you already are! Good for you! But finding something new to cheer about is a good stress reducer.
  1. A Calming time. Build in daily time to breathe deeply, express gratitude for what is, remember people in prayer or send healing thoughts. Those moments take us out of ourselves and our worries and into the moment. Websites abound of poetry, prayers, Headspace. Calm. Listen to music. Or Google stories of people taking care of themselves and each other. If you can, make a quiet time when self-shaming, inadequacies, guilts are set aside and we inhale strength and steadfastness for the day ahead. A new phrase for others and for myself (from Eat Right Now app) is “May you be free from harm inside and outside” as I think of those I can’t hug right now and for those I can. It’s a prayer even for myself.
  1. The final key to endurance is laughter which truly is the best medicine. Caesar’s antics have added greatly to our criteria of steadfastness. Judging by the internet contributions, many of us find joy in our pets. How I love to see him spin and twirl when he sees me come back from my weekly grocery run, waiting on the back of the couch then greeting me at the door. He dances around like a puppy. Watching funny movies (Peter Rabbit), being amazed by our world with programs like Nature or National Geographic, being grateful for roofs over our heads and a life with so many blessings makes the frustrations, disappointments, cancellations, Jerry’s health challenges, pale in comparison. I look for joy.

I hope in your daily sheltering, you find shields in these six tips where you have some control over your life even when the rest of the world spins topsy-turvy! Let me know how it goes. I’m holding steadfast thoughts for you.


Appreciate Your Library!

This is national library appreciation week (19th-25th.) The theme is “Find Your Place at the Library.” Given that libraries weren’t determined to be as “essential” we have to find new ways to find that place. Visit ALA.org for some great ideas to honor your favorite library including posting this sweet photo on your facebook page. Many library events are continuing on line so join up. That reminds me…I need to send a contribution to my little home town library, the Mondovi Public Library where I got my first library card back in 1950!


Something Worth Doing

It’s hard to believe, but I do have a new book coming out in September. It’s still on target to be released though events are in limbo. Still, I hope you’ll check my calendar starting in August for possible occasions to celebrate Something Worth Doing. While it’s a story of an early activist for women’s rights in the 1800s, it’s more a story of a wife and mother balancing her passions with family demands. Add to it natural challenges – like a civil war, tornadoes, fires, etc., health concerns and a brother with whom she was quite competitive and I hope you’ll find the makings of a fascinating story that will hold your interest even in the midst of Covid-19. Abigail Scott Duniway amazed people in her lifetime with her resilience and I think she’s a great example for working toward something worth doing in this day and age as well.


Word Whisperings

Trace Elements
by Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press

Yes, Donna Leon has another Commasario Guido Brunetti mystery set in Venice. Not only are her stories well-plotted, but her capacity to bring readers into the minds of her characters so we see them as friends (or questionable suspects) is unparalleled. She informs as well as entertains, makes us think about environmental or industrial or health challenges in intriguing ways. In Trace Elements, for instance, there is a death of course. But the way Commasario Guido Brunetti uncovers the murder is as much a part of the story as the unique sort of death that happens. I read this as pictures of a Venice flooded a little over a month ago now is free of tourists with the cruise ships no longer coming into the canals flashed across the screen. I fully expect a new book with the Coronavirus as a part of the plot and the Commasario’s surprise at being able to see a body at the bottom of the canal which can now be seen deeply into without the turbulence of water taxis and ships stirring the canals up. Donna Leon always delivers and leaves us with questions of justice and morality well-developed. A page-turner and one fine, fine book.


In Closing

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer, philosopher and poet. He’s a favorite of mine and this is one of my all-time favorite pieces of prose.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

These words speak to our time. Baffled. Yes, indeed. Our minds are employed trying to make sense, carry on, set aside anxiety and fear. Employed, taking care of ourselves and each other like the impeded spring, we will sing. Let’s keep that in mind as we shelter in place being firm, solid and steadfast while making those spaces of grace for hope, healing and purpose.

Thanks for reading Story Sparks.



P.S. One last thing