Saturday, July 22, 2017


Because I have been too busy to keep up my blogs, I will write a short post tonight.

Today I had lunch with a former student, Barbara Gabriel, and her husband, Bryant. Two of the nicest people I know. Barbara was one of my first students when I opened my studio after Barry died. She was the perfect student. it was obvious she was already a writer, but she had not written, she said, in years.

Today she said, "I consider you my mentor. You brought me back to writing and changed my life."

Well, that touched me deeply. When someone says I changed their life and they are writing again and enjoying it, I feel very blessed.

Someone did that for me way back in 1995, so I understand perfectly. Also, she mentioned that she promotes other writers as I do. That really made me proud. I want to make a positive difference in the lives of my students and my followers online. Barbara has many who follow her on Facebook and she is in writing groups online. I am happy for her that her writing is such an important part of her life, and she has a supportive husband.

I am teaching a two hour memoir class each week and have a class of adults who have great stories to tell. It is hard for beginning writers to accept feedback at first and often they don't realize that they will get emotional when they read their work out loud. It is hard for those who have been writing to see how much more they can learn about the craft. At first they might feel defeated, but I try to encourage them to stay with it, to persevere even when it might be more work than they had thought it would be. 

C. Hope Clark said in her newsletter today that most people don't have a clue how hard it is to write well, to get published by reputable publishers and in good magazines and journals. Her father calls and asks if he is interrupting her. She says she is working. He says are you working or just writing?

People don't often respect the time and effort we put forth because they have never done this work. It is hard for writers to tell their family, "Don't bother me for the next two hours. I am working." I think it is harder for women to do this. Most men will take the time and write even if it is late at night after work or early in the morning. Women do that, too, but so many times children and spouses feel that they can interrupt the mother/wife because she isn't doing anything important.

Although I have worked for the past two hours on a talk I will give tomorrow, I am still writing and I am behind with my deadlines. Never a dull moment around here what with Lexie wanting to play, the telephone ringing, and email to answer.

What do you do that keeps you busy? What do you feel you never have enough time for?

Remember it is easy to leave a comment. Just write as anonymous if you don't have a gmail account or email me. I love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

I have spent this hot weekend indoors with three precious dogs. Yes, I am baby-sitting for Gay and Stu who are attending a wedding.

Dogs have different personalities. Sunny, the Maltese mix, is cute as can be, but she lets everyone know she is Alpha Dog. If Smokie, the sweet little miniature Schnauzer, comes near where she is sleeping, Sunny growls like she is going to have Smokie for lunch. 

Sweet Smokie
Alpha Dog, Sunny

Now throw Lexie in the mix. Lexie is not afraid of Sunny and challenges her for Alpha status. But Lexie is younger and is more interested in playing than in fighting to be top dog. While I sit at my computer they all sleep in their respective places. Lexie loves her crate and sleeps curled up in a ball. Sunny usually sleeps on a pink blanket on the floor of the dining room where I am working, but today she has taken over Smokie's bed just to my right. 

Smokie, who challenges no one for authority, sits on a mat and looks at me as if to say, "Can't you make her give me my bed?" 

I try to encourage Smokie to come past Sunny and take the pink blanket, but as soon as Smokie gets close to Sunny, the boss leaps up in her face and growls like a lion in a cage. So the schnauzer goes back to the mat and finally curls up there and sleeps. 

Last night as I was preparing for bed and getting ready to let all three of them stay with me, I heard the fiercest of battles begin behind me. I turned and Sunny and Lexie were on the bed going at each other. I yelled at them, but they did not stop. I then tried to reach and pull Sunny toward me so Lexie could jump off the bed, but no, Lexie had decided that no one was going to take her place on my bed next to me. I think it was all a bit of jealousy, but they really frightened me. Even after I held Sunny away from Lexie, my little one would not stop attacking Sunny. 

I never had a problem with my dogs and Gay's and Stu's dogs, but in the past I always had a male. My male dogs never challenged their female dogs for their food or attention. Rocky let Smokie chew on his legs and his neck when she was a puppy and he never even growled - not once. I think it is jealousy that upsets the apple cart with these girls. 

Rocky licked Smokie to show her how much he loved her

Lexie is used to having all my attention and not sharing me with anyone. Sunny is used to being the top dog and doesn't plan to give that position up anytime soon. Sweet Smokie just sits and looks at me with those pitiful eyes, and I feel guilty that I don't take her in my lap and hold her. I know her mom would do that. But I have been at my computer and cannot type and hold a pup.

Well it is time to feed them. They are good about eating together, but I have to watch Sunny. She will take Smokie's food if she gets a chance. And I will be sure she doesn't try to sneak any of Lexie's. I don't want another dog fight tonight.
Lexie likes to be near me even if she is  on the chair beside me. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The end of a great weekend

My nephew Jon Beall and his son, Bryant, came to visit me on Saturday and right away asked, "What can I do for you while I'm here."

I quickly gave them a list: Take the rocking chairs on the deck to the garage. Take the Gazelle to the garage. Take this and take that. Now my deck is not cluttered and I can see my deck garden from my chair.

I made some lunch and then Jon wanted to know what else he could do for me. He has always been the most caring and kind person. He reminds me of Barry with his easy going nature and he never seems to get angry. His six-foot-three son, at seventeen, said very little but seemed willing to help. He removed the little twigs and leaves hanging on my gutter over my front door.

Before they put their boat in Lake Chatuge Saturday afternoon, they had cleaned out and organized my garage and taken two loads to the garbage transfer station. Now I can see what is in there and decide what I need to keep and what can go. Jon told me to sit and he brought boxes over for me to go through. What a huge relief! 

Jon and his sister, Paige, spent lots of time with Barry and me when they were little. We loved having them. I was Paige's first baby sitter when she was a tiny little thing. Often at Easter, they and their mother spent the day with my family on the farm. They hunted eggs with the kids on the front lawn.

Jon calls me fairly often and we keep in touch. He is married to a fine person and has a daughter, also. I am sharing one of the last photos made with Barry in 2008. Jon was almost named for Barry. His mother wanted to name him Jon Barry, but I objected. I wanted to name my first son after Barry. How silly and young I was then. 
Barry, sitting, Jon behind him with arm around Bryant.
I am touched deep in my heart by the kindness of Jon and Bryant. I just wish I could have made the fish bite for them. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Marcia Barnes, Georgia Author of the Year

I want to send out a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Marcia Barnes, member of NCWN West.

On June 3rd, Marcia's children's book, Tobijah, was named winner in the children's book category, and Marcia was awarded Georgia Author of the Year Award in the Childrens' Book Category by the Georgia Writers' Association at a banquet held at Kennesaw State University.
Winner: Marcia Hawley Barnes, Tobijah   

I can say from first hand knowledge, it is one of the most beautiful books for children that I have seen in a  long time. If you have kids or grandchildren, order this book for the little ones.

Marcia  also published a family recipe book that I recommend. The Little Book of Secret Family Recipes. A heritage cookbook, the collection contains favorite recipes found in the archives of her family.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Daddy, a complex man, honest and fair

Coy Lee Council in early 1920s
Father’s Day was always a day of consternation for my sister, Gay, and me. We had no idea what to give Daddy, and many times what we chose, he didn’t want. He did not take gifts generously. He didn’t know how to receive.

I remember that Gay and Stu gave him a seat with wheels for use in the garden. He said take it back because he would never use it. He was not trying to hurt their feelings. He was simply being honest. Most of us know that if we receive a gift we don’t want, we can take it back ourselves not hand it back to the person who took the time to find something they thought would be perfect.

Tact was not Daddy’s long suite. Neither is it one of my brother’s best traits. Some people don’t come into this world with filters, I believe. But you would think they would learn, wouldn’t you?

One Father’s Day I decided not to purchase a gift for Daddy. I wrote a poem for him. I handed him the poem and then tried to  give him a hug. But he stood like a tree, tall and strong, his arms down by his sides. Mother said he liked the poem, but he never said a word about it to me. 

He was afraid to show his emotions. Maybe it was generational or maybe the way he was brought up without a father. He learned to be tough and hide his feelings when he was ten years old and had to go to work for mean uncaring men who were quick to punish the kids they supervised.

My father was a complex man. His sense of responsibility and his  honesty made him a highly respected man by those who knew him. He believed in fairness, and sometimes that did not set well with society or those who lived on farms nearby.

One example of that was when a neighbor let his hogs roam over on our farm after my father had plowed and planted his crop. When the neighbor did not come and get his hogs, my father shut  them in our barn. The neighbor came over after a few days to get his hogs.

My father said, “Not until you pay me for feeding them the past week.”

The neighbor went to see the sheriff who came out and told my father he had to give up the hogs. Although Daddy felt he was doing the fair thing, the law said he could not hold the hogs. The neighbor did not pay for feeding them, either. But the neighbor learned a lesson. He never again let his hogs ruin my Daddy’s planting.  

I have written a story, The Day My Father was a Hero. My father was the only man on the jury who believed the defendants were guilty. They left a woman alone way out in the country with no clothes or anything to cover her. It was the coldest night of the year. She died curled up on the ground.

At the time, in the fifties, no women were allowed to serve on a jury in Dougherty County. The other men on the jury said the woman who died was no good, and they did not want to ruin the lives of these young men by finding them guilty.

But my father stood his ground even though he was berated by the others. He could not change anyone’s mind, so the judge declared a mistrial. Daddy’s sense of fairness and justice would not let him excuse these men who did not have any compassion for another human being. They left her there to die.
Daddy's first car

If Daddy was still with us, I would find a Hallmark card for him, one that was not mushy or embarrassing. I would sign it, Love, Glenda.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

FLAG DAY - JUNE 14 -Special to me

This national holiday is also the day I  married Hugh Barry Beall from Rockmart, Georgia. As I have said before on this blog, we met on July 4, 1963. So these summer holidays have a special meaning for me.
Dressed in my going away  suit

Barry never forgot our anniversary and always brought me a card that he carefully hand-picked so it said what he wanted to say. In the early days of our marriage we made a big deal of  our anniversary, going out to dinner and pledging our love again. But as the years passed, our celebrations became simpler and quieter. However, he never forgot and always gave me that special card. I wish I could say I never forgot, but I had a couple of times I did. 

I used to tease him and say, "You have never written me a love letter. Why don't you write me a love letter?"
His answer was, "I don't write. You write. I don't write."

But he had little ways of showing  his love. When we were together, he never let me cross the  street without taking my hand, and he often held my hand while we walked on the street. When we were in a crowd, he always knew where I was.

Gay Council, Glenda Council Beall, Barry Beall, Richard Beall

Nobody in my  family ever publicly showed their affection for each other. That was just not done. Mother was a loving person and showed her love in various ways like cooking our favorite dessert for  our birthdays. And she was a hugger.

I never saw my brothers kiss their wives or show any special affection. But Barry was never ashamed to kiss me in front of my family. He came from an affectionate family where his mother and father were outwardly loving to their children, kissing their sons and hugging them. I was enthralled with that type of behavior. He did not shy away from the word LOVE which I never heard in our house when I was growing up. 

Of course, today I think it is bandied around so much and so often it has lost its meaning. I think it sounds fake when people use it all the time to everybody they know. Some people say "I love you" to friends as they drive away and then turn around and speak of them in a manner that says otherwise. Friends who enjoy being together and have fun together talk about loving each other, but I don't think it is the  kind of love that is deep and meaningful.

I  am not afraid to tell those close to me that I love them. And I have learned in my Third Act what love really means. I suppose that wisdom comes to us as we draw closer to the time when we might lose them or they might lose us. I am happy that I finally broke that unwritten rule in our home and I was able to tell my siblings that I loved them. 

Why is it hard to tell our siblings how much they mean to us? One of  my brothers called me and told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. His voice was shaking and I'm sure mine was, too. Before he hung up, he said I love you and I said the same to him. What a huge step in sharing his emotions. He had bottled up his feelings most of his life. 

I'll never forget one of my  brothers kneeling beside my older sister just a short time before she died. He knew he might not see her again as  he lived many miles away. He poured out his heart to her, telling her all she had  meant to him in his life and telling her he loved her.

I was in tears as I  knew that was a milestone in his life and hers. I just hope that anyone reading this  post will not procrastinate, putting off  speaking to someone they love. We never know when that person might be gone and we will not have the opportunity to see them again. 

Nothing is worth holding a grudge for life. When I hear of people who don't speak to  their sisters or brothers or parents, I know there is anger and hurt that won't be resolved until they talk. And both parties suffer. Even when I  knew one of them was in the wrong, I did not stop loving my brother. 

But I have strayed from writing about my anniversary. Today we would have been married 53 years. We didn't have that 50th big party, but on our 40th anniversary, my sweet sister and brother-in-law took us on a wonderful weekend where we stayed at the Opryland Hotel and were treated to two days of great fun with two of  our favorite people. 

Barry taught me so much about loving someone and showing that love in my everyday life. I'll always be grateful for that.
Barry's greatest act of  love for me was bringing me to the mountains in 1995. We had some wonderful years here.

Are you holding a grudge against a family member? Do you want to let it go?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dark Days Brightened by My Students

The past week has been extremely hard for me. 

Just getting over some malady that kept me in bed a week and then being diagnosed with a light case of shingles, I pushed to get myself ready to teach a Creative Writing class beginning June 6. 

The days leading up to June 6 were dark. I could not focus on anything but the health of Kathryn Byer, who was in the hospital, first in ICU, then on the oncology floor and finally I was told she was in a Hospice Situation as cancer raised its ugly head, and she was too weak to win the battle.

I don't know if the fact that Kay had Lymphoma made it harder for me. Barry had that kind of cancer. He was told by the local oncologist, "If you have to have cancer, this is the best one to have. We can manage it with chemotherapy but you can enjoy your life."

Our Poet Laureate Emerita, Kathryn, was told the same thing. When she told me that a few months back, my heart sank. Those words frightened me more than you can imagine. I wanted to say, "Go to Duke where they have done new and outstanding research on Lymphoma. Don't do what we did."

But I didn't want to frighten her or over-react to her diagnosis. After all, I was not there when she spoke to her doctor.  After Kay's passing I saw where her sister-in-law posted on FB that the family was reeling with the shock of her death so suddenly when they had been told just what Barry and I were told. No one was prepared for her passing this quickly and with no warning.

As much as I hate cancer, I hate the way some oncologists make patients feel that they can fix everything with the same basic protocol used on everyone. I remember one of Barry's doctors, not an oncologist,  saying to us when we expressed that we felt we were rushed into chemo before we knew the options we had, "That is his job. That is how he earns his living, by giving chemo." 

Just as Kathryn's family says on Facebook, I say don't be passive about your care and your treatments. Ask for a Pet-Scan to see the progress being made or not made during your treatments. Don't rely on the doctor's word that you are doing OK. 

Barry had a Pet Scan after he finished his round of chemo and the doctor said the tumor was very small now and he was 98 percent cancer free. So they would not do any more chemo at this time. Barry was dismissed for three months and during those three months the cancer grew so rapidly that it killed him. I wish we had insisted on tests each one of those three months. I wish we had gone where research was being done on his kind of cancer, and I wish we had checked more carefully the local doctors. 

As patients we learn but seems the doctors never learn. They do the same things over and over again. 

Tuesday was a brighter day for me. My class is delightful and filled with writers who are motivated. Some of them are in the midst of writing books. I was told by a new person to my classes that I was a good teacher and the class was very interesting. I needed that. I felt I was only half a teacher as the other half of me was just not here. 

Today I see many wonderful tributes in newspapers and on Writers Digest online for Kathryn Stripling Byer. Such an outpouring of love everywhere you look makes me smile for her. It somehow lets in the light - just a little bit.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Third Act

Sunday morning, June 4, 2017, 2:20 a.m.
My heart is heavy as I wait to hear news about my dear friend who is fighting for her life. She is younger than I am and seemed to be in good health until a few months ago.

We never know how quickly our lives can take a bad turn. When we feel we are at the top of our game, we can receive a negative diagnosis from a doctor. Many of my friends are in their seventies and older. We work hard at taking good care of our bodies. We work hard at taking care of our minds. But no matter what we do, those of us in our “third  act” as Jane Fonda refers to those in later life, know that time is  limited for  us on this earth.

I like the term Third Act, because so many good things happen in third acts. Someone has recently written a book with interviews from women who are in their eighties. The reviews say the wisdom and interesting stories in this book make this a good read. I will read it when the price comes down a bit. 

It is hard not to just say, well, there is nothing I can do at my age, about the way the world is going. I sometimes think I could spend my last days sleeping late, watching streaming movies, having lunch with friends, and reading the stack of books that are on my TBR list. But I know I would grow weary of that schedule, bored with life itself.

Since my husband died, I have become even more determined to make my life matter. While he was with me I gave much of my time to him. He wanted my time and attention, and even needed it at times. I was always busy with writing and my writing events, but I tried not to let them interfere with us. After all, he had been with me for forty years; through those years when I was searching for my truth. I think I always wanted to make a difference in this world. That was why I taught school.

Now in my third act, I am teaching adults and working with my writing organization to help writers who live in the mountains where I live. I can’t change the world, but I can help one person at the time to  follow their dream.

At present I plan to meet with writers in Swain county this month to help them organize there.
I will visit Transylvania county where we have a new representative for NCWN West, and recently, the editor of the Graham Star and I exchanged emails about meeting with writers in Graham county.

I can give opportunities to writers and poets who want to teach and share what they have learned with those who are beginning to write and need leadership. This year we will have three guest instructors at WritersCircle. Karen Holmes in July, Tara Lynne Groth in August, and RichardKrawiec in September.

I am sure my friend who is suffering tonight in a hospital has many plans for the future. I hope she has the chance to follow through on them. But if she doesn’t, she has made a difference in the lives of so many people, including me. She is loved and respected. Her legacy will be lasting and noteworthy. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I Grew Up with Music all Around Me

Recently I was watching GPB TV and a program on the Carter Family singers, A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and Mother May Belle. Their haunting melodies that likely came over from Ireland and England still appeal to my Irish roots. Music of the past played a big part in my life.

My mother, Lois Robison, sang in church as a child. She was an alto in the choir. She played piano by ear and felt she was not good because she didn’t read music. However, I believe that those who have a natural ear for music and learn to play instruments from hearing a tune, are as good musicians as those who only play from notes on paper.

Left to right: Rex Council, Hal Council, Max Council, Ray Council,
The Council Brothers Quartet

In 1948 – 1949, my four brothers, Ray, Max, Hal and Rex, made a name for themselves in southwest Georgia when they sang in all the little country churches for miles around. Ray sang bass, Max, tenor, and Hal sang the lead or baritone. Rex, very young at the time, sang alto or first tenor. Like most family singing groups their voices blended well into a harmony that was their own. They listened to the old time music of country singers like the Carters and Jimmy Davis, and more popular country singers of the day on the radio.

The brothers had been singing together most of their lives. They sang while they worked in the fields, while milking the cows and while riding together in the family car or truck. Max had an affinity for learning lyrics. His memory was impressive. It still is today at the age of 87. He can sing every verse of almost any song he and his brothers sang throughout the years.
He can recite long poems he learned when he was in high school. 

Ray did the same. They both loved the poems of Edgar Allan Poe because of the rhythm and rhyme. While Ray gained higher education later in life and was well-read, he continued to enjoy singing the old gospel songs with his brothers. He listened to classical music and drove up to Atlanta to attend the Met when it brought one of his favorites to that city. But he was a true lover of all kinds of music.

I remember watching him, when he was a kid, learn to play his Roy Acuff guitar he ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. As we all sat on the front porch on a summer evening, he sat on the steps cradling that guitar. He never became proficient on the instrument, but he learned to read music and taught his brothers what he learned.

In 1949 Ray and his brothers managed to earn money to attend the Stamps-Baxter music school in Dallas TexasThey rode the bus there and Ray rented one room in a boarding house for the four of them. With only 200 dollars for the trip, they walked wherever they had to go, and ate meals at the boarding house. They spent their evenings in their room singing, much to the dismay of other boarders who had to listen to them every night.

The brothers were handsome young men. Women liked them and even in Texas they had their share of dates. Max still remembers the girls they met. He was nineteen at the time.

While at the music school, the quartet was asked to sing one night on KRLD, a national radio station. This station had a strong signal and could be heard all over the country. Ray chose a song they knew well and it had a small solo for Rex. He was only fourteen years old. When he thought of all the people listening he developed stage fright. At the point in the song when he was to sing solo, there was no sound. Ray realized Rex was not going to sing that part, so when it came around again, he jumped in to take his little brother's place. 

When they returned home to Albany, Georgia, they continued to sing in churches and in concert at the Albany Auditorium and other venues in southwest Georgia. WGPC radio, the first radio station in Albany Georgia, asked them to hold a program on Sunday morning which they did for a year or two.
Council Brothers Quartet in late fifties singing at family reunion

Mother enjoyed her sons' singing and was usually present to hear all the praise bestowed upon them. My sister, Gay, and I were usually present as well. Although we were very young at the time, I understood the honor of being kin to these young men.

I don’t think there was ever any thought of making singing a career for them. In our family, art of any kind was just a hobby, not a sensible accepted way of making a living. My brothers sang on stage with the top gospel groups of their time, the Statesmen Quartet, and others of that era. Some of the Statesmen can be seen on the Gaither gospel music show on Television.

The brothers eventually moved to popular music of the day. I remember them singing, That Lucky Old Sun, My Happiness, and others I heard on the radio. They sang some of the great Sons of the Pioneers songs. Cool Water was a favorite of the audience. They chose songs that allowed for their family blend of voices.  

I don't remember when I didn’t hear them sing, and I always enjoyed their rehearsing at our house where we could hear them. Different men and women came out and accompanied them on Mother's upright piano. I was five years younger than the youngest brother, Rex, so when he was 19, I was fourteen, a teenager, the same age as he was when he went to Dallas to the singing school.

Over time, the brothers married, became fathers, worked hard to make a living in various businesses. They seldom sang together anymore. Two of the wives made a fuss, I think, about their husbands leaving them home while they met with their siblings to sing. But Max would not give up singing any time he had an audience. His wife, Salita, had a beautiful alto voice so husband and wife began singing at churches and nursing homes with a friend, Jerry, playing the guitar. They were in demand for several years. Although Salita suffers from dementia now, she can sing and remembers the words to the songs she and Max sang long ago.

Council Brothers and Barry Beall on guitar at the Council Reunion
in Crawfordville, Florida
After Ray retired he asked some of the family if we would be interested in gathering to sing with Barry singing and playing guitar for us. Barry was a voice major in college and sang beautifully. From the time we married and he entered our family in 1964, my brothers embraced him as a member of the Council Brothers Quartet. He often sang solos, usually folk songs, when they made appearances.

Our 1980s family singing group consisted of Ray, his wife Gail, Max and Salita, Gay and Stu, and Barry and me. We had such fun learning parts for all the old songs we had heard all our lives. After singing for an hour or more we ate dinner together. We laughed and told stories and bonded tighter than we had ever been. We missed Hal and Yvonne and Rex and Nancy, his second wife, but they evidently had no interest in singing with us. I never knew exactly why, but we respected that they had their own thing and we had ours.

Somewhere I have a video of our group singing. Max’s son, C.C. gave a humorous name to our group  - The Broken Spoke Gang. It was a takeoff on a group called the Chuck Wagon Gang. We were not ready for an audience, that is for sure.

I miss those evenings of family love and music, where we raised our voices in the old southern gospel songs. I miss my brother Ray, who spent hours copying music for us and helping us learn our parts. I miss his passion for music and family. Like Mother, Ray believed family was everything and he made many sacrifices for our family. He used our love of music to bring us together. 

When I hear the songs my brothers sang, I smile and feel a comfort inside. When I hear those old hymns we sang, tears come to my eyes as I remember when Ray and Barry were still with us. Good memories, all. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day reflections

Lois Robison Council
This past week two of my Robison cousins, my mother’s family, came for a visit. We had a great time talking about our families and especially my mother, Lois Robison Council. Rob Robison said she gave the best hugs in the world and even though he didn’t get to see her often, she always gave him a big hug and seemed to really care about him. She did care for him and kept up with him all her life.

Rob is the grandson of her oldest brother, Avon Robison. Mother was next to the youngest so there were many years between them, but they loved each other.
Mother was raised in a home filled with love and she loved most people she knew. She was a forgiving soul, too. Unlike many others I have known, she never criticized her family.  Her brothers and sisters were good people and some of their spouses were not so good to them she said, but she was not rude to anyone so she accepted them as well.

My Mother, Lois Robison Council, who was always beautiful inside and out
We knew most of our cousins as we grew up and I met Rob, who is a  second cousin, when he was a kid a few years younger than I, but not when he was an adult, that I remember. But now we are like old friends who enjoy seeing each other and talking about our Robison family history.  He lives in Arkansas now but grew up in a military family living all over. 

My g-grandfather, was John Monroe Robison, and he had many children. His son, William Henry Robison was my grandfather. Rob’s father was named Henry Robison. Henry was killed in a plane crash during WWII. He was only 23 years old. He left behind his wife pregnant with Rob.

It broke my mother’s heart when Henry died. He was close to my sister June’s age. They both graduated from Albany High School, as did I and all my siblings. We often visited Henry’s mother and father after he died. They always cried when they talked about their only son. Their house was like a shrine to Henry.

Tomorrow is Mother’s day and I am grateful, as I am every day, that I had the most understanding and caring mother anyone ever had. I knew I was loved and she was always on my side. Mother had unconditional love for the children she brought into the world. We don’t often find that anywhere else. She had so much love in her heart that it spilled over to others around her. 
I wish every child could have a mother like mine.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

May - Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Month - How MCS affects you.

Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) affects over 48 million men, women, and children. May presents a great opportunity to work towards increased public awareness of MCS and support for the millions of people affected.
“MCS is a devastating illness that makes it difficult to live in our modern world. It’s hard to imagine that everyday household items like cleaning products and perfume can make you sick, but for people with MCS, virtually everything in their homes can trigger reactions,” says Debra Lynn Dadd, consumer advocate. 
Dadd was one of the first people to be diagnosed with  MCS and has written two books on the subject. For her and others, sheets made from synthetic materials usually contain petrochemicals and can be a trigger for illness. Many MCS patients have insomnia. Dadd now uses 100 percent cotton sheets and she sleeps like a baby.
Lately I have noticed that my bedroom has become one of the triggers for asthma and respiratory illness for me. I recently purchased a new mattress and a mattress cover that was claimed to block dust mites which are one of my allergies, but maybe it is off gassing petrochemicals and causing my breathing problems. 
"...While people with MCS were the first to show negative health effects from toxic chemical exposure, now there is a clear correlation between everyday toxic chemical exposure and virtually every illness.”
Recently, after a night when I did not sleep, I was at the local grocery store wearing my special mask with the charcoal lining when a young man who carried my groceries to the car asked why I wore the mask. I told him the grocery store was a bad place for me because of the air pollution from cleaning products, air fresheners, scented candles and so many other fumes that stagnate in the air including the personal care products of all the employees and the customers. I told him they make me very ill.  
"I have a problem like that," the boy said. Some of the perfume that girls at school wear really get to me. I think it's some Avon stuff, but it really bothers me." 
I didn't tell him that he was not unusual. One third of all Americans are adversely affected by scented products and the chemicals usually made from petroleum. 
A teacher I saw at a recent event at the high school told me that one summer before she got her job teaching, she worked for a cleaning service and they cleaned my house. "I'll never forget you," she said to me as I tried to remember her. "You taught me to clean without those yucky cleaners. I don't use them anymore."
I never allow any cleaning products in my  house except vegetable or plant based cleaners. Vinegar and water does the best job of cleaning my kitchen and bathrooms, along with baking soda. When I dust I don't use a furniture polish or anything sprayed into the air. My indoor air is clean. In my living room are two air purifiers that run all the time. They are small but large enough to take care of the room size. Two more help clean the air in the rest of the house. Even with a little dog living here, I am told my house smells clean. Instead of all the stinking air fresheners people use all the time, they could purchase a few small machines that clean the air, not cover the smells. 
Larger air purifiers like my niece has in her home, work wonders on cleaning and making breathing indoors comfortable. When I spent a few days at her house, I loved being in the bedroom where they had the large air purifier going all the time. 
I usually make my laundry detergent from unscented soap, baking soda and Borax. But I can use Seventh Generation free and clear and a  couple of other plant based products. I never use dryer sheets. They are almost as bad for us as air fresheners. The smell of dryer sheets linger in clothes forever and also hang in the dryer. It is almost impossible to clear the odor from the dryer. Often service people come into my home to take care of the AC or another appliance. The smell of the dryer sheets used on their clothes immediately begin to make me feel uncomfortable. 
With 1/3 of the  people in the United States having adverse conditions from scented products, I have hope that one day manufacturers will be held accountable for the use of these chemicals they tell us have no harmful effects. 

But we must continue to  educate the public and make them realize that they can protect themselves and their families by refusing to use these products. Today  I went online to find products that are unscented or non-fragranced. We have access to many more now than we did ten years ago. 
One day we might catch up with other countries that have already banned some of the harmful products found right on our grocery store and drug store shelves.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mental Health Month - We all have mental health issues.

We all have mental health issues at some time in our lives. But too few of us seek counseling when we need it. In my own family, there is a history of depression and suicide on my father’s side.

My daddy succumbed to depression when he was in his forties. He bought a farm,  the biggest gamble of all, and had to make payments on a loan. He had such pressure on him to make that loan payment that when his crops failed and he lost some of his livestock to lightning, he became extremely despondent.

I remember him sitting, one early morning, in front of the gas heater, his head in his hands. Mother sat beside him, her arm around his shoulders. They talked softly and I did not understand all of what was said, but I heard Mother comforting him. We will make it through. Don’t worry now. You will find a way. She tried to  cheer him up.

I believe my father was actually crying, but I was a child and I’m not sure. I do know that he was unhappy and irritable most of the time. It was years later a medical doctor prescribed an antidepressant for him. However, no one talked about it. Mental health problems have always been hidden because our culture stigmatized those who needed help for those issues.

Thank goodness, Prince William and Prince Harry are opening up about the dangers of holding in your painful feelings by finally talking about the terrible grief of losing their beautiful, beloved mother, Princess Diana. I know that children have long lasting effects from grief that they can’t talk about. Often adults tell children, “Be strong for your mother now. She needs you.” What a burden to put on a child. 

I am afraid I did that with my nieces when their father died. I hope I did not, but I probably did, because I was ignorant of what they were going through. They seemed, at the time, to be handling things so well. But I am sure they pushed that pain as far away as they could.

Some people say that kids are resilient and they spring back better than adults. That is not always  true. Sometimes kids seem to  be fine when they, like Prince Harry, are suffering deep inside.

Having  lost so many of my loved ones, I know that grief hits one in different ways. And we grieve over many kinds of loss. Women grieve that they cannot bear children, but they don’t feel they can say that out loud. I know women who have lost infants in miscarriage or at birth, and they don’t have a time or place to  grieve. Unthinking friends often say, “Well, you can have another one.”
Another one will not replace that child that died. That pain will always be there.

I first went for counseling when my mother collapsed with a ruptured aneurysm on her carotid artery and almost died. She had to be cared for the next ten years until her death. She lost her short term memory and could no longer cook or drive a car. I had no idea how to care for anyone, certainly not the one I had always turned to for my own needs. The stress was overwhelming at times. I had a husband, a job, and a house and yard to take care of, but I was also on call 24/7 for my mother.

Lois Robison Council, my mother, who lost her short term memory at the age of 70
I told no one, but I sought a counselor where I could cry and not feel ashamed or guilty, where I could pour out my sadness and my low feelings of self-esteem, my fear that I was not up to the task. That was when I realized that many others I knew could benefit from counseling as well. When I expressed to my counselor that I would be considered weak if I told my family I was in counseling, he said, "Actually, you are the strong one in your family.” He said it takes courage and strength to face the truth and to talk about the pain in our lives. He was right.

When a troubled niece came to live with me as a teenager, I had to seek help. I had no training in dealing with a girl who was grieving the death of her father and, in a way, the loss of her mother who had to go back to work and had to move the family away from the school, the friends, and all familiar things she knew.

I did not know what to do. It was such a relief to talk with a mental health counselor who worked with children. The best advice she gave me was so simple to follow. “Just love her. Let her know you love her.” That was easy.

Ten years later, when my mother died, I was devastated. No one in the family seemed to grieve the way I did. I just could not get back to  normal. I went back to my counselor who knew me so well. He  knew me better than anyone because I was free to tell him what I was feeling. I learned during those weeks and months that I was suffering because I not only lost my mother, I lost my purpose in life. I had to make a new life for myself that did not include my mother.

My purpose for a decade had been to keep her alive and to dedicate myself to her care. I was the one who knew her prescriptions and when she should take them. I was there at the doctor's office to hear his words because Mother would not remember to tell me. Once she was gone, I felt I had no purpose.

Someone said to me, “But you had your husband.”

Yes, I had my husband and I still cooked meals, kept house and spent time with him. I loved him dearly. But if I didn’t cook a meal or if I didn’t keep house, he would still be fine. He would not be upset one minute. Thankfully, he was that kind of man. Caring for him and my home was not a life or death matter.

The death of my mother changed my life completely. I became so depressed I lost interest in everything. That is the reason I have empathy for anyone who has lost a parent, a child or a spouse. Each loss is an individual issue that affects each survivor in a way no one else understands. My sister said she thought my grief for Mother was harder for me than the grief she and the others in the family felt.

Richard, my counselor, showed such kindness, understanding and caring he helped me pull myself out of that dark time. I had taken painting lessons and I lost myself for hours sitting in front of a canvas creating a work of art. My husband and friends found my work pleasing and praised me as an artist. Using your hands helps with grief. Creating something new brings stillness to your mind, and  takes away the pain for a time. Art can heal and I found that writing and painting is very healing for me. 

When I see a mother lose a child to cancer or some other horrendous disease, I say a silent prayer that she will seek counseling. Some deeply religious people find solace in talking to their priest or minister, but some don’t get what they really need. They don’t need to hear that God will not give us more than we can bear. They don’t need to hear that time will heal our pain. They don’t need to be made to feel they did not live a good enough life or that it was for the best. Some platitudes are spoken that only hurt, not heal.

Sadly, the stigma of seeking mental health care keeps many from reaching out. Grief not only hurts us in our heart and brain, but it makes us physically ill as well. When my husband died, it seems I had more sick days than well days. I needed more sleep, yet when I awoke in the morning, I felt I had not  slept at all. I could not focus on tasks or even read without going back to read the same page again. My mind jumped from one thing to another, mostly about what I need to do or should be doing, or how am I going to do that or how can I do this. This did not go  away in a few months or even a few years. I had  to work on this every day and I sought help.

I am grateful to another counselor in my life. She is my sounding board. One time I might think I need to sell my house. The next time I might say I love my house and don’t want to sell it. She never tells me what I should do, but helps me think through my dilemma. 

“Psychotherapy doesn’t help people become unstuck because of what the therapist knows, but what the person who is stuck knows.” *

She reminds me that when I am not feeling well physically, I turn negative. But when I am not sick or in pain, she helps me see how I can reach my goals. She helps me understand I don't have to give up and call it a life. She asks the questions I need to hear.

Right after Barry died, I poured out my hurt and pain to her. I didn’t worry about what I said, or if I sobbed. She handed me a tissue box which she keeps in her office, just as I do in my studio. I hand them out to my students when someone writes and reads about his/her life and brings tears to  the eyes of the listeners. We don't feel embarrassed.

Counseling has helped me overcome anger and fear. I was angry at members of my family even though I loved them dearly. Once I talked about these people and discussed events in the past, I came to understand my anger. I also wrote about all of these things so writing was also helpful, especially writing about my father and understanding his fears of failure.

After my husband died my emotions were like a roller and that was detrimental to relationships with my loved ones. I had to let my anger out without hurting them. My therapist let me grieve anyway I wanted. She told me I had a right to my feelings even if it was anger I felt. Even if I felt abandoned I had the right to that feeling and I had the right to cry, to mourn and to hit something or kick something as long as it was not someone.

I didn’t have to pretend to be stalwart, strong when I didn’t feel strong. I had the right to sit home and watch family videos and cry over all the good memories we had made together. I did not have to  be Jackie Kennedy, and have others say how strong I was or how well I was dealing with my loss. In our culture we often pretend to be fine when we are with people, but fall apart when we are behind closed doors. 

My therapist encouraged me to do things I once enjoyed or take up something I had never done. She inspired me to give myself permission to travel and do things I had not done when Barry was with me. By doing those things, I developed more self-assurance. I made notes in my journal when I did something I had never done before. I patted myself on the back when I accomplished a new task.

Mental health makes a huge difference in the lives of us all. I once told my therapist, “I always feel better when I leave here.”   I wish I could say that when I go to my medical doctors.

Think about what it feels like to be carrying a heavy piece of furniture and to finally put it down on the floor. That is often the way we feel when we talk honestly to our therapist. We take that load off our backs. We bring it into the sunlight and see it differently.

Keeping painful thoughts and feelings hidden deep inside makes us ill, physically and mentally, so if you have lost a loved one or if you have gone through divorce, or if you have found you cannot have children or if you have been diagnosed with a disease, find a good therapist. Find someone you are comfortable with and don’t expect to be fine after one or two sessions. Stick with your counseling and I am sure you will find it is very helpful.

When my older sister, June, was in her last months of life, she wanted to talk to a therapist who counseled her about dying. When June accepted that she was not going to get well, she talked on the phone with her counselor. I don't know what was said, but after she hung up the phone, June said to  me, "I love her. I mean I really love her."

*  quote from a  TED talk on psychotherapy