Saturday, June 13, 2020

A New Normal

How many times have I heard: we will just have to get used to a "New Normal" ...what does that mean? Coming out of isolation and learning how to "safely" relate to people again in the midst of this 2020 Pandemic is hard...really hard.  I guess in some ways we feel like a bear coming out of hibernation. We really need to get out again. That is true, but we are not hungry like bears, after all the grocery stores were all open as an essential business. Snacking while binge watching Netflix was a hibernation tactic. Yup, I gained about 7 lbs, but am slowly getting back on track. It's amazing how many cute hibernation jokes there's a cute one, because humor always seems to help.

Yet, in spite of all the frustrations of late, the pandemic and race riots of 2020 have hopefully instigated some new changes that are surprisingly refreshing when we view them as instruments of change.... change for the better. I like to think we all learn to appreciate those we love, both friends and family, especially when we can't see them as often as we would like. Of course, being aware of safe health practices to prevent the spread of disease is always a good reminder. And just when we were beginning to learn our New Normal everyone's world got turned upside down by the terrible death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Then violent protests and riots erupted in many major cities across the country. Every American was affected in one way or another by these events and the disturbing images witnessed on TV and with our own eyes create both sorrow and anger. We can only hope that these events help us move towards a better tomorrow.

As I think about these events on a personal level, I try to reexamine by own core beliefs and hope that I can relate to all my fellow humans equitably and equally. Also, as a writer...I think it's odd that during this isolation of the pandemic one would think that I would have all this time on my hands to write away and produce huge amounts of work.....Ahhh...maybe not so much. Sometimes I work better when I have more outside stimuli. I have worked on my National Parks book some. My goal was to complete it in 2020, but so far 2020 has been a really challenging and weird year. So we shall see what happens.

 So moving forward, I guess we could all ease into the New Normal however that is defined. I want to be optimistic and if history tells us anything, good things can come out of bad circumstances. Keep looking for that silver lining. Julie E. Smith

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Surviving "Shelter in Place"

I am a people person, always have been. So with the social constraints and expectations required to help our society contain the current pandemic: the Coronavirus-2020, I am sure I am not the only one feeling anxiety and frustration.  It's also interesting to note that the name of the virus seems to have morphed from Coronavirus to COVID-19. Several people still refer to it as the Coronavirus; it's easier to remember with the name of a good beer attached to it. Perhaps the folks at Corona don't like that...but hey, any publicity is good publicity. Not sure how this time period will go down in the history books: COVID-19 or Coronavirus...that remains to be seen. The thing I miss the most during this "shelter in place" and social distancing is seeing people, talking face to face and of course hugs. I am a hugger. There is something about a hug that fills up your "tank" and replenishes your soul.

So during this isolating period, since I can't see friends and family, I can do another coping mechanism: writing. So here I am at the keyboard talking about surviving the Coronavirus 2020. I promise not to tell you to wash your know that already. How many times have we been told that? What I will say is do something you love that will lift your spirits. We all must remember that this too shall pass and we can return to our "normal" lives. Maybe when we return, it will give us a greater appreciation for the simple things like a warm handshake from a business acquaintance, or a warm and comforting hug from a dear friend.

In  making an effort to do all these things, we are told that our efforts help to minimize the spread of the virus and help to "flatten the curve." I really hope that is the case. It is disheartening to watch the news and hear that many of the diagnosed cases keep increasing.  We like to believe...we WANT to believe that our efforts to minimize the virus do help.  Without these efforts, the pandemic would be worse. Yet, the impending assault on the economy and the livelihoods of so many people is just as scary as the virus itself. Mental health professionals say to only watch the news once or twice a day; that is sufficient to obtain all the information you need without an information overload and diving into depression.  I am not glued to CNN, but wow it is very easy to get overwhelmed.

So when one is overwhelmed, it's best to pursue something that brings you comfort. I blog. I journal. I pray. So many churches, my own included, have revised their services to bring messages of comfort and some feelings of "normalcy" to their congregations via various forms of video conferencing.  We viewed our Pastor's last video sermon and he did a great job. It was kind of fun to attend church in my pajamas...yet I miss the fellowship, and HUGS, of fellow worshipers.

The Coronavirus pandemic came at a strange time (it's never a good time) for my husband and I because we were in the midst of a move. Our closing at the real estate office was completed without a hitch...but it was just weird. No handshakes, very few people and we even got disinfected pens that were individually sealed to sign documents with.  I appreciated everyone's extra care...but like I said...weird. Now that we are in our new home, the shelter in place orders came through and I wonder if we will be hitting the top of the bell curve soon. Hopefully on the downward curve. Since we did just move, unpacking boxes and getting settled in is a top priority and keeps me busy. But lets just say I would rather blog than unpack another box.  Good thing I got my computer hooked up.

So as I look out on the bleak landscape, both figuratively and literally, I look forward to planting Spring flowers and figuring out where I am going to put tomato plants in my new yard. It will be great to watch things green up around here. HOPE springs eternal.

What activities are you doing to weather the "shelter in place" storm? I would love to hear from you! Julie Etta Smith

Monday, February 10, 2020

Finding Joy...Part 2

Apparently finding JOY is on my mind lately. In our crazy society, with all the unending stress, it would seem to me that the pursuit of joy is a pretty frequent activity for most of us- just as a matter of survival.  My last blog was on that topic and I still am immersed in a fair amount of stress with the selling of our home and the move to a new home. Granted, it's all very exciting, however, the stress sometimes robs the joy from our life. That's why I am trying to look at the proverbial silver lining and stop having the "What Ifs" from taking over my consciousness. As they say, one day at a time.....I have tried to stop worrying about "What If" they don't complete the house by the deadline? "What if" we have a blizzard on moving day? "What If" my husband or myself gets hurt or sick before the move? get the idea: I could go on and on and my mind frequently does that crazy dance.

So to help quiet those thoughts in my mind and bring back the JOY, I have been doing a combination of things...but it boils down to three main things: Praying, Journaling and Blogging. All of these things work beautifully to restore and maintain my sanity. Sometimes it's hard to find the time to Journal or Blogg, but the awesome thing about prayer is I can do it any time, anywhere and I know God is listening. Very good to know that. God has helped me out of more than one "sticky" situation, and always manages to help me climb out of a deep barrel.

I was also thinking that JOY is not just the absence of pain, it goes beyond that and paves the way for true Happiness. Perhaps all this discussion is just a matter of semantics, but it seems to be the absence of pain, emotional or physical, is COMFORT  not JOY. Comfort is a good thing, no denying there. Think of the wonderful Christmas carol: Tidings of Comfort and Joy. A wonderful blessing. Yet, there is an inner peace that comes with true joy. So how does one find that? Just like Thoreau said: "Happiness is like a Butterfly...the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes I think I should have majored in Philosophy instead of Journalism...Yikes my brain hurts. In any case, need to take a break from all this "joy seeking" and pack another box for the big move. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Finding Joy

I am an avid list maker, to the point of obsession. It helps keep my Bi-Polar brain on track and everyone has to admit, there is a great deal of satisfaction in crossing items off your list upon completion. I always loved this meme about adding "Drink Coffee" on one's to do list. Now I have another item I would like to add to the very top of the list: Find Joy. On the surface, seems like a trivial task and there are days when...we know the ones, when it seems like an insurmountable task. Yet, when you add it to the to do's everyday, it's amazing when you not only cross it off your list, but can add tally marks for the joy you can find in every day life.

Even the seemingly littlest thing can be magnified to a truly Joyful moment in your day, especially when you are actively seeking JOY. Today I saw a black squirrel burrowing in about 5 inches of snow today. His black fur was easy to spot against the new fallen snow and he was so comical to watch because he kept popping up and down. Either burying nuts or seeking some...he was so entertaining to watch. Made me smile, and to me, that is joyful. In the craziness of everyday life, it helps heal us when we look for the joy. It helps diminish the pain and make all the not so pleasant tasks a little more bearable. Finding JOY and recognizing those things that bring us joy help to generate gratitude. Then when we are grateful, it in turn creates JOY. Its cyclical.

Today is the first day of Advent on the Christian calendar.  Advent means "coming" in Latin and as Christians we are preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the celebration of the birth of Christ.  John the Baptist proclaimed this coming in Mark 1 2-3:  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' "
It is also the beginning of the stressful season with all those TO-DO lists that will most likely weave their way into everyone's lives these days.  Things we do to "prepare the way of the Lord.."

Set up for gifts...prepare for Christmas party...bake cookies...plan Christmas meals...set-up guest rooms...write Christmas letter and cards..... (just to name a few)

The holiday season is different for everyone, perhaps everyone's lists have different priorities, but I believe that we could all benefit by adding Find Joy to our lists.
Yet, sometimes as Christians we forget what the beauty of the season is all about: celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Yes, it's obvious....but sometimes we need to bring back the GRATITUDE  for blessings and bring back the JOY. 

I personally find encouragement in seeking joy, it helps make the rough part of our journey more tolerable. So I will try to find the Joy in the every day....even if it is a little squirrel frolicking in the snow.   Julie Etta Smith


Friday, November 15, 2019


Hard to husband and I are moving again after only 3 years in our current location. Wow, it's so exciting, but sometimes I feel like an Army brat. Although military families probably move more frequently than this. Perhaps you could just say I am a glutton for punishment. Moving is a very stressful experience. It would be great if you could take "moving stress" and stuff it in a box, tape it up and shove it into the truck. All neat and tidy and put away...but it's not quite that simple. I have just recovered from a nasty bout of flu, brought on I'm sure by my immune system being compromised by all the stressors in my life- the "move" included. Don't get me wrong, my husband and I love the geographic area we moved to with all the beautiful lakes and woods for the start of our retirement years. However, we are just hoping to change our house that we live in to meet all our needs. My husband is a talented woodworker and the shop he has at our current location is woefully inadequate, not really a "shop" at all. In our new house, he will have a completely unfinished basement to set up an awesome shop, just the way he likes. We will be moving only 20 miles from our current location, and probably won't move until early spring. It's kind of exciting that we are having a house built. Really exciting but LOTS of decisions to be made.

Me stressed? Nah....I've done this so many times before.
According to a study conducted by the United States Census Bureau, the average person will move  11.7 times in their lifetime. Over the course of a lifetime, perhaps 11 times does not seem like too much. Especially when you factor in trips to college and back home every summer, I guess that would count as "moving".  I counted the moves in my lifetime and it already comes to about 21, so I guess that is about double the "average". You think I would get used to it by now, and efficient at the process...maybe, but its still stressful.

Speaking of the stress of moving, to help diminish the stress and help clarify things in my own mind; I am doing my favorite activity: writing. It's a little healthier than drinking, which is a close second for stress reduction. I still pursue the joy of libations, depends on the day. Yet writing still is incredibly therapeutic for here I am at the keyboard again.

In any case, when we moved 3 years ago I blogged about it. I dug out one of my old blogs on the subject that I had written just prior to our move. I discovered that I was incredibly distraught at the time because I had not completed the book based on my Grandmother's diaries. Fear not, after all the craziness of the move, I did settle in and complete the book. My relatives who knew and loved my Grandmother as I do, were pleased that the book is a fitting remembrance of my Grandmother. I am so glad that I was able to accomplish that task for my family. Hopefully, I can continue to pursue my writing and "keep on plugging", I do have another book in the works. I will survive this move as well and perhaps even complete the book "in progress".

 In helping us to cope with the changes in our life, I have found comfort in the observation that change is inevitable and we might as well expect it. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said it best: "Change is the only Constant in Life"  If we know that change is bound to occur, then it's easier to meet the changes with an open mind and a spirit of discovery, instead of cocooning and shutting ourselves to the possibility of new experiences. So here's to dealing with change...wish me luck!  Julie Etta Smith

Monday, July 22, 2019

Body Image-taking a Leap of Faith

Photo by: Aleksander Antonijevic
This morning as I slipped on some exercise pants for my work out at the gym I noticed something that brought a chuckle to my day. On the tag of my pants it said "Danskin".  Most of my exercise clothes are generic or old t-shirts, but I do have a few nice ones. I remember an old commercial for Danskin: "Danskins are for dancing". Now I'm assuming the company meant to inspire anyone to get off the couch and start dancing. Preferably a dance suitable to an accomplished ballerina. And if you wear Danskin clothing you will look like a ballerina with the sculptured muscular legs to go with it. Nothing against Danskin, they are just trying to sell leotards, tights and leggings, but one can't help but get these certain images in your brain about how a healthy body is "supposed" to look. It's my understanding that they changed their slogan to "Danskin's are not just for dance." Also, now it's called "activewear", for just about any and all forms of "active living". Although I will say, I can't see myself going to the grocery store or walking a dog wearing leggings and a tank top. I know, it's been each his own.

 So getting to the chuckle that was brought to my day.... as I slipped on the exercise pants, when I saw the Danskin label I thought of myself as a pretty Portly Ballerina. Now I was being gentle with myself- I didn't say a FAT ballerina; I was so kind to use the euphemism "portly".  Then it brought a smile to my face when I realized what I would look like trying to attempt ballet. Yet, I dressed, went to the gym and felt strangely empowered by being thankful for what my body CAN do, not dwelling on the things I CAN'T do. I also try very hard to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. Yes, my legs are fat, my knees hurt....but my legs still work, and my knees bend. Perhaps it takes me longer to climb a flight of stairs than it did a few years back, but by golly I can still do it.
 3 Cheers for Julie.  Yes, I want to stress the importance of being your own cheering section.

Now perhaps I have a biased opinion, because I never took ballet. Yet I hold in high regard the beauty of the art form of dance and am always amazed how an accomplished dancer, ballet and other forms of dance, can discipline their bodies to perform incredible athletic feats. Truly an inspiration. I did however take a one semester course in Jazz Dancing. Oh my gosh. What an incredibly fun class. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but never did get the full routine down pat. As I said previously, not a good dancer. I remember to this day it was to Chaka Khan's "I Feel for you"....great song. Click on this link to hear that good ol' song and I think you will agree, it's very "danceable:  In the class, there were many fancy dance steps and motions, in many different sequences.  Even if I "messed up" several times, it was so great just becoming immersed in the dance and moving your body to the music. Isn't that the point of dancing? That's why I always have music to move me at the gym. Helps motivate me.

So on that playlist from my MP3 player I use at the gym, many of the songs help me to rise above "body image" and work to keep the body I have healthier and happy.   In terms of female body image and empowerment, Meghan Trainor has many songs to inspire. One of my favorite lines is from  "All About that Bass" : several lines encourage loving the body we have: Meghan sings: " Yeah, it's pretty clear, I ain't no size two....I see the magazines working that Photoshop. We know that shit ain't real. Come on now, make it stop...Cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top."
Thanks Meghan.
So I guess I can't stress enough, both to myself and to many others bombarded by images of what the perfect body should be. Love and take care of the body you are in because it is the only body you are given. Be good to yourself and thank the Good Lord for the goodness within you.

Julie E. Smith

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Perpetual Student

You would think when I completed my formal education, I would have stopped taking notes and scribbling interesting bits of information on any nearby paper I could get my hands on. Yet, is a habit that I have carried outside the classroom. Granted, usually it's for ideas for my two blogs and/or a potential article I have been "meaning to write."

Although sometimes the note taking is not for quite such a concrete purpose, but rather just to clarify my own random ramblings in my brain. Like many people, it helps me to remember things. This concept of my propensity for frequent note-taking came to mind today at a Weight Watchers meeting. A  fellow meeting attendee inquired, "You're taking notes?" I explained: "Yeah, I know it's weird...but it really helps to remember all the pointers and great ideas that are shared at meetings."
She seemed to think that made sense, or maybe she was just being polite, but it really doesn't worry me. That's just who I am...a journalist and a note taker. I don't trust my memory and it really does help to highlight what I view as important. I have even been known to jot notes on the church bulletin when a particular sermon has inspired me to pursue further discussion or reading. I have generated several blog topics that way...(Thanks Pastor Barry for your inspiration.) So I just keep on taking notes and hopefully keep on learning new things. One can never live long enough on this earth to know everything...there is always something new to learn.

So I keep writing, reading and learning as a perpetual student in a variety of areas of study. Of course I have my favorites, and I doubt I will ever go back to studying Algebra or Trigonometry....Argghhhh...scary thought!! Yet having the opportunity to always learn something new is a blessing.  Albert Einstein expressed this well by saying: "Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it."

My mother is truly an inspiration to me. And to her grandchildren as well. She always finds something new to discuss and to learn about with other people: always ready to embark on new learning adventures.   She is a "newspaper article clipper" and has an uncanny knack for knowing just what the people in her life are interested in. Any article on the National Parks (one of my passions) always finds its way to me. One of my sons is a civil engineer living in Alaska and working to assist with reliable energy sources. You can bet Mom always finds energy development and Alaska articles for him. Well, you get the idea and the list goes on for her finding new information that affects the lives of those she loves. She obtained her undergrad and Masters degree quite some time ago....but the learning just keeps on going.

When I travel and have a brochure in hand, its funny that additional notes always end up on the side margins. I have little tid-bits of information that I know I will forget if I don't jot them down. I own several journals that I take such joy in filling up the pages. Some are used for story ideas, some just for the sheer joy of writing. I know we are still in the peak of summer...but the Back to School sales will be upon us soon. Every August (sometimes even late July) I delight in the crisp, white pages in the spiral notebooks and packets upon packets of pens and pencils. All waiting to be used.  My husband has to keep me away from those aisles in the store...I probably have enough journals, spiral notebooks and pens to last at least five or six years....I better get busy.          
                                                                                       Julie Etta Smith