Before the pandemic, I worked in an environment with plenty of distractions. One wall of my office was shared with a busy conference room and another with the main breakroom for the floor. When the refrigerator door opened it would often hit my wall and threaten to shake loose anything hanging from it. People often hurried past the door or dropped in to see what was going on and my office mate being an extreme extrovert, people-pleaser, engaged them all in lengthy conversation. I became an expert at tuning out what was happening right beside me.
Transitioning to a home office stripped those distractions, but replaced them with new and, for a period, more interesting distractions. What time did the mailman come? How many deliveries did the neighbors receive each day? Would the construction across the street ever be finished? Who are the new neighbors moving in? Is the handsome new guy single? Yes, I became the one drawn to the window at any new sound or rumbling delivery truck. I’ve seen enough mysteries where the nosy neighbor gets killed, though, to know not to buy a pair of binoculars for a better view.
All I learned about tuning things out in the office started to come in handy at home. I didn’t need to see which children where playing outside or what the handsome young man was wearing when he left. I could have the TV on for background noise and when one of the podcasts I follow wandered into the now repetitive and pointless topics, I hit fast forward.
As the weeks passed, I started to see more families riding bikes or taking walks. I wonder how many of them were outside hoping to escape the pervasive doom and gloom. It was good to see families out together, enjoying nature and time together. There is a wonderful drive through a wildlife refuge a few miles from my house along with a maze of tiny dirt paths that meander along spits of land in the Indian River. I took these drives several times and saw more people enjoying them along with me than I have in all the years I’ve lived here.
It’s healthy and often necessary to tune out the noise in life. I don’t mean just the news and social media, but the things that nag at you and keep you from spending time with family. The house will always need to be vacuumed, the dishes or clothes will always need to be washed, there’s always another conference call or report to write. It’s important to draw boundaries and stick with them.
Keep work at work and home at home. Of course emergencies can arise with either, and those can be handled as needed, but other than that, focus on where you are and who you are with at that moment. Turn off the TV and computers. Put your phone on silent or Do Not Disturb and take a walk. Tell your kids stories they will roll their eyes at, but years down the road they will remember and realize how right you were.
2020 was a year like most of us have never experienced. Social turmoil, a pandemic, economic downturn, social isolation, and violent terror attacks. Conversely, there was also a resurgence of families spending time together, children playing outside, an awakening of faith, a renewed appreciation for many things we’d long taken for granted. Over the next several weeks I will share some of the things I learned and experienced.
The first thing I learned was to appreciate what I have. I was fortunate not to be furloughed from my job when many others were. I had mixed feelings, a little bit of envy. I can think of numerous projects I would have completed with all that time off, including editing my current work in progress. However, there were glitches with the unemployment benefits and some colleagues were still waiting for their first payment over a month later. Watching my meager savings account dwindle in an effort to keep the basic bills paid would have place tremendous stress on me. I thanked God for knowing what was best and keeping me where I needed to be during that period.
A gray and weeping sky greeted us Thursday morning, which fit our exhausted spirits. We were thankful to have a slower day planned and dawdled over breakfast in the hotel restaurant before meeting our guide for a taxi tour of Belfast’s iconic murals.
As much as I’ve read about Belfast, it was still startling to see how close together Shankill and Falls Roads are. The physical divide between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods isn’t much at all. Our guide had a first-hand perspective of the “Troubles” as his grandfather had been a member of the IRA and served time in jail.
Much like we in the U.S. are working to rewrite history by tearing down monuments, some of the historical murals in Belfast have been painted over or modified to alter their meaning. We learned that any mural with a face on it couldn’t be painted over, but could be altered. History should be something that is objective rather than subjective, a statement of facts. If we don’t learn where we come from and the mistakes that were made, how can we learn and avoid repeating those mistakes? I wish now that I’d purchased a book on all the murals.
I’m fascinated with the whole Brexit situation, particularly how it will impact the people of Northern Ireland and if this shift will be what leads to the island being reunited. I asked the guide about this and he seemed to agree that reunification was likely, if only for economic reasons. Brexit will likely lead to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, causing goods being transported from north to south to be subject to border checks. (Some roads cross the border numerous times within a few miles!)
Additionally, the Catholic population is growing; the demographic that has most wanted reunification all along. Where they once were a significant minority, they are forecast to be the majority within the next couple of years. If you live in the UK, particularly Northern Ireland, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Our guide dropped us off at Belfast City Hall so we could do a little more exploring. It’s the most impressive City Hall I’ve ever been in! The rain was only a light sprinkle by this time and we enjoyed our walk back to the hotel. The train ride back to Dublin went quickly and we were greeted by Tricia’s friend, Dan. He guided us to our hotel on the River Liffey to drop off our bags and we walked to Trinity College, just a few minutes away. Trinity is a beautiful campus.
We had tickets to see the Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript, created around 800 AD, that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. We reached the exhibit and flowed from one informational wall to another, learning about the art of illumination, until we reached the actual book in a glass case.
When we finally reached the Book, I experienced a feeling of deflation, much like I felt upon seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Both are much smaller than I expected and the colors of the Book weren’t as vibrant as I anticipated. It’s beautiful, for sure, and it’s obvious the work to create it must have been painstaking. I was so deflated I forgot to take a picture of the actual thing, but I did have a photo of a copy housed at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, which is a pretty good replication. Sometimes we build things up in our mind so much we are bound to be let down when we do finally experience them.
Dan was going to take us to a fish & chip shop, but after wandering for close to an hour, stumbling on icons such as Molly Malone, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, and Dublin Castle, we stopped at the Bull & Castle. Dan was brave and ordered an appetizer of bone marrow. It was strange in every way, but the taste wasn’t bad. The steak I ordered was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Dublin definitely comes alive at night. The streets were crowded as we walked back to our hotel and music poured out of many pubs we passed. We had a good chuckle at the line of American franchises- Kentucky Fried Chicken, Papa John Pizza, TGIFriday’s, Subway, Burger King, and McDonalds- practically on top of each other. I admit we did enter the McDonalds, but only so Tricia could use the facilities. Don’t worry, I purchased a coffee.
Come back next week as Tricia and I pick up our rental car and hit the road!
Since I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, it might sound strange that a Game of Thrones tour changed the whole route of our itinerary for this trip and yet it did. Tricia really wanted to do a specific tour (there are dozens to chose from in Ireland) and it was only offered on certain days. I had planned to visit Belfast at the end of our trip, allowing us to travel in a loop around the island. However, the only day the tour was offered during our visit forced us to head north on Tuesday night so we could do the tour on Wednesday.
While I’m not a morning person, my job requires me to be in the office very early and I’ve become conditioned to move quickly once the alarm goes off. When my phone began strumming the wake-up music, I popped up to start getting dressed; Tricia did not, She groaned and pulled the blanket tighter.
Once I managed to get her up and dressed we popped into the Starbucks across the street and then made our way to the end of the block where the tour was meeting. Tricia and I made our way to the back of the bus so she could surreptitiously finish eating the muffin she’d been told she couldn’t bring onboard as the company was worried about messes.
We had to drive about an hour out of the city and the countryside was lovely. Unfortunately, Tricia had taken the wrong medication that morning and it put her to sleep so she missed most of the views. I was surprised at how the Mourne Mountains seemed to rise up from nowhere just outside the city. I’m used to the rolling foothills that precede most of the mountains here in the US. Maybe I didn’t notice the land rolling upward because of the city bustle.
We arrived at the ferry stop and I realized we were in the town of Portaferry. Now I was excited to be on this tour. I mentioned in my first post Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor series of books. Well, Portaferry is mentioned in them from time to time so I felt a connection to the place. I looked around, wondering which pubs Doctor O’Reily may have visited. Yes, I know he’s a fictional character, but as a writer, there’s something exhilarating about seeing a place mentioned in a book. Of course, we were on a tour to visit places of complete fiction anyway so why I am defending myself?
Tricia was still pretty sleepy on the ferry, but I enjoyed the crossing of Strangford Lough, watching as the town of Strangford grew closer. I watched for birds and wondered how far from the town the good doctor would have been when he went fowling.
Soon we arrived at our first stop, Castle Ward, which was used for Winterfell in filming Game of Thrones season one. There isn’t much left standing besides a tower and some courtyard walls, but the tour guide played us video clips that showed how the tower had been replicated and some other computer imagery added to create the castle.
Then we walked around the grounds to several other filming locations. The brisk walk helped wake Tricia up. We passed the Strangford Sailing Club and I thought about young Doctor Barry Laverty’s interest in sailing. We trekked close to three miles, mostly along the shores of Stranford Lough, which, even with gray clouds pressing in, was beautiful.
After our tour of Castle Ward we returned to Strangford for lunch at The Cuan followed by a visit with the “Direwolves”. They are beautiful animals. The story of the owners and how the dogs were cast on the show was interesting. It sounds like the directors/producers of the show took time to invest in the locals, casting many of them as extras rather than bringing in tons of people from Los Angeles or some other film-centric location.
From Strangford, we drove to Inch Abbey, a beautiful ruin on the banks of the Quoile River. We were given capes and swords, which we playfully swung around. Those swords weigh a ton! We all did our best to look menacing, but no one could stop grinning with delight. While the rest of the group engaged in mock battle, I wandered around taking pictures. The tour guide provided interesting information about lighting techniques used during filming here to make it look like the scene was taking place indoors as well as how the crew managed the changing light as the sun moved through the sky.
Our last stop on the tour was Tollymore Forest. A number of scenes were filmed here, I remember something about a dead stag being found in the road and the discovery of the Direwolf pups. Our hike through the park almost made me want to watch the show just for the scenery. If you visit Ireland and love the outdoors, I highly recommend spending a day in Tollymore, exploring the more than 630 hectares of forestland.
It had rained every day for weeks before we arrived, so the Shimna River running through the park was quite high and rushing downhill in a torrent of frothy rapids. One part of the trail crossing the river on large stepping-stones was completely covered and another section had been flooded as well, but there were enough dry patches to pick our way through without getting too wet.
We hiked another 3 miles here and one section was little more than an animal trail. I found it thrilling but Tricia wasn’t very fond of this section.
We returned to the hotel around 6:00pm, exhausted from both the lack of sleep and the exertion of the day. We debated going across the street to the pub, but ended up ordering room service and collapsing for the night.
I apologize if you were hoping to get more behind-the-scenes insights into Game of Thrones. I think the guide did an excellent job, I just didn’t retain much of what he said since it wasn’t the big draw for me. We used Game of Thrones Tours, Ltd and their guides have all been extras on the show, which allows them to provide first hand experiences.
Next week we face our first truly rainy day and meet up with one of Trica’s Facebook friends. I admit I was a little scared of getting together with a stranger.
Time in the mountains of North Carolina is a balm to my spirit. The birds sound happier, the water is more refreshing, the air smells sweeter and I feel at peace. This tripwas planned to celebrate my parents birthdays, enjoy the comedy of Jeanne Robertson and indulge in my love of Michael Bolton. At the time I booked the flight, I had no idea when my new book would be completed, so it was extra sweet to have a proof copy awaiting me when I arrived at my parents’ house. Getting to show this off to my family, particularly so close to their birthdays, was exciting.
I was late to the Chip & Joanna Gaines “Fixer Upper” phenomenon. I happened to turn on HGTV one weekend last fall when I needed some background noise while I cleaned house and a Fixer Upper marathon was on. I ended up spending more time taking breaks to watch the show than I spent on cleaning. I was hooked on the transformations this sweet couple was able to bring about on some of the most hopeless looking homes. I started watching pretty much every time I found several episodes on in a row and soon found myself wanting to visit Waco, TX. Every time I’ve mentioned this desire I’ve had multiple people express the same feeling. I even lived the trip vicariously through one friend’s Facebook posts.
For an author to be without words is never a good thing, but AND today I am struggling to find the right words to describe the emotions coursing through me.
It started this morning when I woke up grumpy. I’ve been fighting some type of sinus/cold virus for almost a month and I’m at my wits end. I wanted to whine, but didn’t want to subject anyone I love to that self-pity so I cocooned in my room, putting away laundry and trying to pray.
When my cell phone started chirping with text after text I grabbed it in frustration, then smiled. A dear friend was announcing the release of her first book. She’s been working on this for quite some time and I’m delighted it has all come together. The multiple texts from other members of our writers group showed all were just as happy. Reports of orders being placed on Amazon warmed my heart and energized me to get dressed and head out the door.
It was 10:15 and I wanted to see how many people were already in town for the much anticipated SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Growing up during the Space Shuttle program, I admit I grew jaded with the crowds that tromped into town for launch days. Cars clogged the roads and every empty field along the river. Families wandered into the road without looking and causing us locals to be extra vigilant as we went about our daily lives. This morning, though, I reveled in the cars parked along the side of the road and the visitors milling around. I ached to stick around and be a part of this historic day, but work called and I had to get home to get ready.
Early birds get the best views
The large building across the river is the Vehicle Assembly Building. Until December there was a boat from Hurricane Irma where this RV now is
Be careful, eager spectators crossing!
By the time I arrived at the office, the launch had been pushed from 1:30 to 2:20 due to upper level winds. I felt a selfish sense of hope that the launch would be scrubbed and rescheduled to tomorrow when I would be home to see it. When the next delay pushing back to 3:45 was announced, again that selfish spirit perked up.
As 3:00 approached, I prepared to access the SpaceX livestream. The minutes ticked down and there was no announcement of another delay or a scrub so I chose to hope that all would go well. My pulse quickened when we reached five minutes before launch. I focused on my work until we were just under two minutes then my eyes couldn’t be torn from the video. Steam billowed around the three rockets strapped together and I clasped my hands in front of my face, whispering words of encouragement as if the machine could hear me.
With the last seconds my throat tightened and my breath caught. Would it fire? Would it rise off the ground? Would it explode on the spot or a few seconds into flight? Memories of Challenger gnawed at the back of my mind. The rocket rose higher and higher, three flames of fire blended into one. The excitement of the SpaceX team was tangible as each milestone was ticked off. I watched in awe, knowing how unheard of a successful test flight such as this is. I felt the tears gathering in my eyes and longed to share the excitement with a crowd of like-minded spectators.
The adrenaline has faded away and I think about how long it has been since the American people had a hope for exploration beyond our own planet. We have sent machines to gather data, but we need to send people to experience the outer regions first hand, to provide information only a human can express. Today, was the first step toward sending humans beyond the International Space Station and I feel an excitement that I hope you all can share.
In case you missed the launch, you can watch a replay below.
Hurricane Irma was my first hurricane completely on my own. When it was predicted to come up the east coast, I considered going to stay with some cousins on the west coast, or even getting a hotel in Orlando. When the track changed, sending the eye of the storm up the west coast instead, I decided to stay home.
I could have gone and spent the night with some friends a few miles away. Maybe I should have or maybe God wanted me home alone. I learned a lesson about pride when my power went out at 8pm. One of the reasons I hadn’t wanted to stay with my friends was that my power had been so reliable during Hurricane Matthew last year.
Mia trying to open the door with her mind.
Hurricane bunker provisions
I learned a lot about drawing close to God too. After tornado warnings that were sounded as soon as the previous one expired (at one point my area was under three different tornado warnings at the same time), with the wind howling so loud and my bathroom feeling like a shrinking prison, I turned on my lantern and reached for two books: Fervent by Priscilla Shirer and I Am by John Paul Jackson. I Am is a Bible study I am attending about the names of God, powerful stuff, and Fervent is about learning how to pray powerfully against the evil that seeks to destroy our lives. Reading these books brought my focus to God, my deliverer, my redeemer, my refuge. It was more calming than conversing with another person crowded in a small room.
When I turned the light off to try and sleep I kept hearing the chorus to “O My Soul” by Casting Crowns.
O my soul,
You are not alone
There’s a place where fear has to meet the God you know
One more day, He will make a way
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down
‘Cause you’re not alone
I don’t know why I have delayed downloading this CD, but once I have power again I will make sure to add it to my library.
I was also reminded of God’s perfect timing. As the worst passed and we were downgrading to tropical storm conditions, I went upstairs to read, there was more light up there. Fervent is broken down into sections to help the reader build a strategy for prayer. The chapter I started reading was on praying for your family. This is important stuff any time, but especially timely for me as there is some stuff going on that needs serious prayer. If I had read this book over the summer as I had intended when I purchased it, this chapter may not have resonated with me as much or I may have forgotten the important points it covers when I need them now.
Finally, I was assured of God’s provision. About an hour after the power went out I went to the kitchen for some reason and found water on the floor. I couldn’t believe the freezer was melting already. Then I heard a drip and swinging the flashlight around I saw water dripping from my pot rack hanging from the ceiling.
I managed to get all of the pots down, then the rack itself, which was a feat. It’s quite a heavy thing. After that the dripping stopped. There appear to be some water spots on the ceiling so I don’t know if the chain was acting as a wick and the weight was drawing the water out of the ceiling beams or what. After the storm I went outside but couldn’t see any shingles missing from the roof.
I put out a call on Facebook for anyone who might be able to come over and take a look. A number of people liked the post, but no one was offering assistance. I went to check on other friends in the area and briefly discussed my situation. I acknowledged that God would provide what I needed and when I got home I found a response on Facebook asking for more information. We talked and arrangements were made for a visit the following day.
As I write this, I still don’t know what caused the leak and I am going on 27 hours without power and yet I am at peace. Don’t get me wrong, there have been times of anxiousness and frustration. There is nothing fun about a house without AC on a warm summer day/night, but I am grateful for this experience.
We talk about God being with us through the metaphorical storms of life, but sometimes it’s good to remember He is with us during the literal storm as well.
Update: Its now been over 65 hours without power but I have been blessed by so many people. Those who have offered their freezer, who have allowed me to charge my devices and provided a hot meal, and two who helped with my roof concern. First, a high school friend came with a ladder and we were able to asses my roof, finding a couple cracks in flashing and slightly lifted shingles. Then I was able to connect with my church’s former maintenance man. He came over and filled in the cracks with caulk. He also checked to make sure there weren’t any other compromised areas. God provided both of these individuals at points when I was beginning to lose hope. I know how fortunate I was to have such minimal damage. Power will be restored eventually. I saw a crew a few blocks away and took them the cookies I made before the power went out as a way to thank them for traveling so far to help us out (they were from Wyoming). Through all of this I have learned a lot about myself and about God. I hope I will carry these lessons with me for a long time.