Advice For a College Bound Daughter

I have the letter my mom wrote to me and left under my pillow that first night in my college dorm room after the family had moved me in, hugged me goodbye and driven away. I gave it to my daughter the day she moved into her college dorm room....only I handed it to her and told her to read it after I'd left for home. I will give it to my son's daughters when they're off on their own; and hopefully my daughter will give it to hers when the time comes. It is the kind of letter that says exactly what every girl needs to read, to know and to feel at this moment in time....and my Mom said it best.

Mom and I saying goodbye as I begin my college years

I was off to Western Michigan University to become a teacher in the fall of 1962.  Just 18, the oldest child of four including the 'little kids' ages 3 and 5; moving two hours away from my Detroit home to live and learn in Kalamazoo was a big deal! Mom depended on me, so letting me go was hard for her. She knew I was excited and we'd had all the talks; but mostly....she understood this was a great leap of faith and growth for me. Her letter was perfect comfort and confidence in knowing I'd be okay.

for you and D, K and B. Maybe we haven't always done things wisely, but all that we have done is because of our great love for you kids. Looking back, there were things that would have made your life happier, I'm sure, but you have had a wonderful life as it is. Do you understand what I'm trying to say my darling? I believe with all my heart that you're going to do wonderful things someday and you will learn best by living the best life that you can.
                                        Joanie, you are going to run into many different kinds of situations and temptations of which you have no knowledge; but we have enough faith and love in you to know that you can and will handle them all to the best of your ability. Remember time and again of why you are and where you are, and what it means to all of us. We will miss you, but if you are happy then we won't mind so much.
                                           Do what is right for you; weigh your decisions, then be happy with your choice in what ever you do. Pray to God each night Joanie, and give thanks for everything as I pray each night thanking him for giving you to us. We are very proud of you and know you will do everything to make us keep on being so proud.  We are always here whenever you need us.
                           Goodnight my darling, sleep tight and give thanks.
                                                         All my love always,

In just two more years my oldest granddaughter will head to college; I'm confident these words....with her name inserted.....will be just as appropriate and meaningful as it was for me fifty years ago! 

10 Ways to Find Your New Comfort Zone

It was the worst of times....losing my husband just about a year ago. My perfectly happy comfortable life melted away in a matter of minutes. I look back now and believe it was the worst time in my life....but not the worst year. Grieving and growing for 12 months has brought challenges, surprises, discoveries and highlights that have created a new comfort zone; a new kind of happiness and a whole new me. 

                                       This is what I found:
  1. Weight loss is a good thing. My recent check up showed I've lost 12 pounds since last summer. My clothes are too big; but my aches and pains are gone, my lab results were excellent, I have more energy and my eating habits are green, clean and lean. If I use the hot cycle on the washer and dryer, I can shrink an outfit a bit and wear it once.  I took a few favorites to the alteration lady and discovered pants in the junior department fit best right now. Thanks to my sister, my nutritionist and online fitness blogs, I've leaned how to buy fresh farm-to-table-food and prepare healthy meals with little cooking!
  2. Strength is not just for men. I needed to do the heavy lifting, hauling, pushing and pulling weight training took on a different meaning. I am so.much.stronger! I actually see a little definition in my arms.....but that underarm jiggle is there to stay at my age. Planks and bridges are great for your core....and fun to do with little ones. Having my weights on the living room floor and music always playing means I can do a few sets here and there all day long.
  3. I look at overall fitness differently more Zumba and Pilates just for the fun of it.  I work my butt off to stay alive and well. Walking, swimming, spinning, yard work and floor play are all part of active aging. 
  4. Patience.  Be it spiritual, common sense, everyday hassles....I'm growing less anxious and more accepting. My husband constantly reminded me not to fret; not to sweat the small stuff. Even in girlfriend gatherings, someone would remind me not to fuss, worry or try to take care of all the details. When I accidentally switched my iPod to shuffle I had an "aha"'s okay to not know what's coming. Acceptance and patience are peaceful.
  5. Living in the in the moments around you. What better place to learn this than on water with boats and geese and paddle boarders floating by and you're lost in serenity and aloneness. I listen to my breathing, laugh at the cat more and delight in walking to the end of parking lots to my car because I find coins. This week I found 47 cents! I find happy moments everywhere just looking and listening. I had to give it a go on purpose at first; now it happens naturally when I'm out and about. 
  6. Friendships new and old. I am lucky to have so many villages full of friends. It did take all of them to give me strength and support in the beginning.....but now I treasure each and every one who has stuck by me. The ones that knew I could do it....and who cheer me on as I evolve. Family, forever friends, neighbors, colleagues and my online pals......thank you.
  7. I'm still working on financial awareness, but it's getting better. I've become more frugal, stopped more services and taken advantage of lower rates by refinancing the house again. Remember I was spoiled and I'm cautious and annoying; "don't waste a french fry" I say to the grandkids. "Grandma can't afford it" I remind them when they want to hit the mall or a local restaurant. But they understand and hopefully learn from it. Someday I will take each one on that vacation of their choice we promised years ago.
  8. Writing opportunities are out there and I have great mentors. But I don't have the same discipline or the drive to strive for compensation. There was another writer in the house in my old comfort zone; perhaps I'm leaning toward a new avenue or passion. But you know I will always write. I'm still a work in progress, where are you?
  9. Ask and you shall receive. I have become more comfortable asking for help and advice when I need it. Whether phone calls, store personnel, neighbors or needing a place to stay....I know I'll learn through others' thoughts and suggestions. Kindnesses that I'll pay forward; this too grows a better me.
  10. Self image and confidence. I never thought I'd manage without my cheerleader. I didn't think I'd move forward let alone on my own. But my soul inside is resilient and less vulnerable. Or maybe it's more vulnerable but in a good way. I know I'm looking and feeling good. I'm making good decisions and showing my children and grandchildren how to live life as it comes.  This makes me comfortable and happy with myself again. 

Writing to The Rescue...and Other Writing Process Tips

 Asked to contribute my thoughts on Writers Writing, the Blog Hopping author tour that's taking place all over blogland these days;  I had to think about why and how I actually write.  I know it makes me happy and has always been a part of my life. But this is the first time I've actually considered what it means to write.  According to my old diary tucked away in a drawer, I've been writing down stuff since I was 10 years old.  Over the years I've had the privilege to write for various publications and to teach writing skills to children, teachers and college students.  It doesn't matter whether I'm reading someone else's work or composing my own piece...the written word never fails to thrill! 
                                                                                                                                      Joan Stommen

Whether relief from worry or a release of joy…writing has always helped me...even rescued me at times from whatever life presented. But the one time writing couldn't rescue me was when my husband passed away. He laid down for an afternoon nap exactly 9 months ago today and never woke up.  

                                                            I could not write.

Losing him after 47 years of marriage was the final blow that destroyed my cocoon. You know; that place that insulates, envelopes and embraces us from birth. I had it all…happy childhood, wonderful husband and the joys of being sandwiched between my parents and grandchildren into my 60’s.  The death of my folks in recent years was hard, but not as devastating as losing my guy. My cocoon was suddenly gone and I was a hesitant butterfly with wings unprepared to fly alone; to find my way into an unknown future. I couldn't write for a very long time. I was afraid to write about death, sadness, pain, guilt and fear.

                                               Mostly, I was afraid to write alone.

He was a writer and editor, a guardian of language and my cheerleader. Earlier that day I took this photo in his office and added the quote he was so fond of. It reminded me how we spent our mornings in retirement; sharing our excitement and joy of the written word over coffee…me from the  op-ed page of our local paper, he chuckling over an article in Sports Illustrated.  I love how much our reading/writing connection kept us close all those years. He proofed every piece I wrote and gave me the go-ahead to publish. More time went by with me filling drafts and notes with random words, but I had no voice with which to use them.

                                           And then I did it…I wrote.

 Putting bits of my usual happy into the terrible sorrow of my heart, I managed to create Till Death Do Us Part. I put in a disclaimer that it was done with no sounding board or editorial check; worried I’d embarrass myself with errors and typos.  I felt both relief and release as the words poured out and made sense; a kind of peaceful  strength when it was accepted. Finally expressing these feelings about loss helped move me forward, helped me begin to heal. 

                                        Writing rescued me after all!

 After six months, I wrote about the things I'd learned and managed on my own in Becoming a Widow. Little did I know that finally sharing my thoughts and experience would not only bring responses of welcome back or well done; but an outpouring of gratefulness for putting into words what others will someday need to know.

                                           Writing became the breeze I needed.

I’m growing more confident with writing now; contributing to blogs and websites and working toward eventual publication of my Dad’s WWII experiences. Somewhere along the way I reached down deep and found that my parents and husband had been preparing me all along in those happy-go-lucky cocoon years. I feel their presence at times with warm, fuzzy feelings of accomplishment or that inner voice that whispers ‘proofread one more time’…definitely my husband!

                               He equipped me really well to fly alone...

 but I’m never far from hands that lift me up on this writing journey. Amazing writers and authors like my mentor Kim Jorgensen Gane at Gane Possible and our colleagues on Midlife Boulevard continually offer me encouragement and guidance as I learn to soar alone.  It’s not a cocoon, but a tribe that embraces me just the same.

 Here is what I've discovered about my writing:

 1)  What am I working on/writing?  I have my parents’ love letters from the WWII years 1943-1945 and I’m pulling bits and pieces of them together for their memoir….or maybe it’ll be mine since they reflect the beginning of me! I have notes and tapes from interviews with my Dad about his experiences as a B-17 bombardier; his tales of being shot down, parachuting into enemy territory, hiding in bushes until he was discovered and hidden by local members of the French Underground for 70 days. I’ve had all this for 3 ½ years…when I said “I want it, I want it all”  as my siblings and I cleaned out the family home after Mom died. It’s overwhelming and time consuming trying to narrow down, connect threads…weave something interesting for my family….for history. I’m also gathering old letters, news clippings and magazine articles about my husband to show my kids and grandkids what a respected, accomplished man he was. Will I stick to the facts with this project…as he always preached...or let the spotlight shine on my voice a bit too?

2)  How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre? I write about family, life and love as others do….but probably much more gushy-mushy, sensitive and emotional.  For many years I was a two-faced writer; news articles for my husband…who weeded out my fluffy, wordy details…and creative journaling in my classroom.  This was where my penchant for over-sharing, over-stating and over-doing colorful sentences really blossomed.  Somewhere along the line he acknowledged this and occasionally turned his weekly column over to me. I was thrilled to add these bylines to my scrapbooks. With a lifetime of diary entries, essay-length letters to family and friends, attempts at poetry and grab-your-attention hand-outs for my staff development workshops; writing a blog was a natural fit for me. However...blogging has its own set of instructions. I learned by reading other blogs and asking questions.  This wealth of knowledge plus continually polishing my own writing finally gave me confidence to join bigger avenues. I was a guest blogger for other sites, had some pieces accepted by More magazine’s ‘My Story' online blog, and was interviewed about writing memoirs for a senior living community. As I grow along….I learn more each day and no longer worry as much about genre or messing up. 

      3)  Why do I write what I do?  I think of my writing as an outlet, not an obligation.  I write because it helps me organize and analyze my thoughts and feelings. I’ve always expressed myself better through writing than speaking. Those elusive connections and words that don’t always pop out automatically in conversation come easier for me through the back and forth process of writing. I’m a memory maker, a Kodak moment kind of girl….so I create windows to look back through….to remember things, savor them, share them.   
Sometimes, like Flannery O’Connor, I don’t know what I think or feel till I write it down.  I like feeling that “aha” moment when the right words come together to say it well. If I can paint a picture with my words and weave stories out of sentences about my family and my life, I am happy. I love how words go together…the rhythm and rhyme of words. I know all words have been written before, but composing them into my own creation defines what is mine.

      4)  How does my writing process work?
 I have unfinished drafts, notes lying around here and there and entries in the journal I use at bedtime; so I guess that’s my start. Sometimes my words flow together smoothly, other times I stumble with word choice; or I fumble with descriptive details when a short, punchy phrase would work better.  My third grade grandson, completing a writing assignment, explained this to me about adjectives: “Describing words can ‘up’ or ‘down’ the you have to use wow words to up it.”  Pretty cool!  I go back and reread constantly, visualize and rephrase. It’s all reaction and that’s the key. I’m a fan of the old sloppy copy...get it all down, then go back and react and edit for the technicalities! This is what my husband handled, so now proofreading is a big deal for me. If my son or daughter are around, I ask them to have a read. I send off copy with permission to edit/revise as needed. I’m getting better, but what matters most is if my voice can be heard.  When I covered news events years ago, I worked on deadline. But I don’t really like writing on demand. Writing this today meant it had a due date!  I’m more comfortable writing when I’m in the mood, when I have a fun adventure, strong emotions or trying to figure things out.

Music and standing up are important as well. Since becoming more health conscience and physically fit the past few years, I’m aware that too much sitting is harmful.  My laptop sits waist-high in front of a window where I can see my side garden and neighborhood beyond. With music playing I stretch, wiggle, do leg raises and strengthen balance by standing on one foot. This helps me focus for a couple hours, keeps me limber and makes me happy. Maybe it was years of TV sports talk coming from somewhere in the house...or the Broadway show tune CD's he loved; but the house is too quiet here alone. I listen to Zumba class routines, movie soundtracks, current tunes and my all-time favorite oldies!

I am pleased to pass the torch on how and why Writers Write to another blogger who will share her personal story on growing, creating and becoming. Read Crystal Ponti's bio below and watch for her post next week!

Crystal Ponti is the founder of Blue Lobster Book Co.; a full-service, self-publishing boutique. Before launching her own business, she worked for many years in community management, working for and consulting with some of the largest sites in the world including and Google. Prior to working at Answers, she spent a number of years as a business and marketing consultant helping entrepreneurs plan, launch, and grow their businesses. Since then, she has focused on book marketing. Most recently she served as Managing Editor, Contributing Author and publisher of the book The Mother of All Meltdowns, a tell-all collection of moms' finest (worst, completely awful) moments. She also blogs at MommiFried, an outlet for her creative writing and a way to share her later-in-motherhood experiences with all women and parents, and is a regular contributor to Felicity Huffman's site What the Flicka? and Business @ Community.

All That I Am, I Owe to My Mom

A lovely card arrives in the mail with a touching verse...but when you open it....there's just a signature. This always disappoints me, but not everyone is like me.  If I spend time browsing and choosing for an occasion, I most certainly add a few thoughts before signing, sealing and delivering.
For Mother's Day 2003, I really got carried away; I wrote a message that took up both sides of the card, all over the back... and up and around the edges! It turned into a whopper of a thank you note. Of course Mom saved it....she saved pretty much everything her four kids gave her over the years.

With their 60th wedding anniversary celebration set for the following month, my sister and brothers and I compiled a family video of my folk's long love and marriage. Evidently previewing the video impacted my writing that day.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!
 me as I was the oldest. I also remember how you always made me feel special! Even to this day you still tell me I'm special....and you know what? I've  always told my kids how special each of them is. Thank you for instilling that in me. Thank you for teaching me how to think with my heart as well as my head, to put myself in other people's shoes; for always believing in a better tomorrow with faith and hope. I still get teased for being too optimistic sometimes....'Pollyanna Joan'....and for not using my head more. But I am what I am and I'm so proud to be your daughter and be part of our wonderful family! 

You and Daddy have given us all the great family traditions, routines, superstitions, "Bickleyisms" and a strong belief in God and prayer. Isn't it interesting that our family has such a mix of religions today......that we were allowed to explore religious paths when we were young. (Remember my first college roommates-a Catholic and Jewish girl?) And boy, did I explore! You never batted an eye when your two Catholic kids, a Methodist and whatever Dave is attend St Andrews Presbyterian with you on our visits home! Thank you for giving me a sense of curiosity and the freedom to try new things. I'm also grateful to you both for allowing us to grow up without any prejudice. In this day and age, living in the south....and looking back on history...I only have to remember riding the bus downtown Detroit and never thinking about skin color....thank you for that.

Thank you for teaching me to find the good in everyone, to forgive and forget and to always believe in myself. As we grow older, I am inspired by the energy and curiosity and enjoyment you and Daddy still have everyday! You are what it means to "grow old gracefully".....thank you for showing me that there is delight in small, everyday things! As much as I love you for being my mother, I love you just as much for your friendship. It's always great fun hanging out with you! 
I am running out of room here, but it's hard to wind it up. You are such a great person, a wonderful woman and I love you now and forever with all my heart!
XXOO Joanie

I'm so glad my parents got to read this card. Exactly a year later in May, 2004, my dad passed away. it's hard to believe he's been gone ten years. Mom and I continued to hang out and share lots of good times...right up until the moment 4 years ago when she left to join my dad.  If you've taken time to read; grab this take-away; take a minute to personalize your cards....and find the chance to thank your parents soon!

          Happy Mother's Day to Moms and Grandmas Everywhere!


This is a throwback post from my daughter's childhood......and my poetry writing phase. As I continue to sort through my binders of letters, diary entries and essays that tell the story of my life...I came across the poems I'd written in the late 70's about my kids, family, life and love. This one really grabbed me; Tracy's youngest now six. And not only do I see similarities between these two...I realize that I knew at age six that she would become the strong, creative, confident woman she is today! This is for you Pumpkin!
   Tracy learned to ski today
    So confidently and free.
              I watched her from the window
       And pride began to flow.
      She sang her favorite songs
             As she moved easily along.
Down a little hill; no fall
                  Eyes always to the windowsill
        Making sure Mom saw it all!
       This child of six is mine.
She is growing, changing, running out of time
                     To be my little girl, my little one.
Tracy learned to read today,
Such eagerness, such curiosity.
She is our independent one
Full of strength and versatility.
At six she seems so sure, so aware
Of who she is, and why, and where.
She'll not be walked on in life; indeed
Her character is tough...and stubborn as a weed!
What pride and accomplishment she feels
Blending sounds and letters into something real.
Can I still hold this little one upon my lap
To read stories; did I do enough of that?
Tracy learned to wait today.
To wait her turn, to share, not hit.
Such hurriedness, such energy, such wit.
"Wait a minute" we always say, but patience
Is unknown
To six year olds who want it now;
A cookie, mom's attention, how to use the phone.
Throw a fit, cry, off to her room
Waiting can be okay she thinks.
As long as it's pretty soon!
I look at this child from us-
Clever, creative, so humorous.
And I really like her; a like as great as love.
My little girl, my daughter, myself.
Joan Stommen  1979