Balance for 2019

Doctors attempting to reanimate a heart that has stopped must charge the defibrillator. Those brief seconds of charging allow the machine to do what is intended–deliver a strong burst of electricity to jolt the heart into action or into a regular beat. Without the charge, the machine is worthless, so those few seconds of preparation are crucial in those moments between life and death.

I’m an action-oriented person. I go, do, teach, learn, serve, work, make, create. I don’t stop, pause, learn, read, relax, or rest enough. I work night and day on a project until I’m exhausted, then I set it on the shelf and feel guilty for not touching it for a month…or two…or more.

As I began 2019, I was determined not to make New Year’s Resolutions. I feel I set myself up for failure making the same resolutions annually, then giving up on each one as time passes. I read my niece’s post about her decision not to make resolutions each year. Instead, she asks God to give her a word for the year.

I believe in the power of words–that’s why I write and blog and teach. I am fluent in two languages so I can communicate in English or in American Sign Language. Words have power, and her idea intrigued me.

The quickest, simplest way for me to recharge is a deep breath. I hear it all the time in yoga:.

That’s it–my word for 2019!

My mantra this year is inhale…exhale. How simple is that to say?  But…     So.      Hard.      To.      Do.

Inhaling includes self-care–getting the exercise my body needs to stay strong, practicing yoga to maintain and increase flexibility, eating healthy foods, and only indulging in moderation. It’s taking time to rest and recharge, and scheduling down time. A writing mentor always reminded me I couldn’t pour from an empty pitcher. I love to give and pour into others, but I have to recharge and refill my pitcher so I can do the things I love.

Pendulums inside a clock swing back and forth in a limited range of motion. When my life is in balance, I can move from work to leisure and back again in a fairly steady, predictable rhythm.  Choosing to inhale will help me maintain balance in 2019.

To hear more about my word for the year, check out my podcast at:




We all have the same amount. Each day, we are given 86,400 seconds, which is 1,440 minutes or 24 hours, until the next day. We reboot (sleep) and do it again…

Until our time runs out

How we fill our time is what differentiates us. You’ve heard do as I say and not as I do? The way to gauge a person’s values is to look at their bank records, and their calendar. Sometimes I’m proud of what they say about me, but I don’t even want to look myself at other times, and I certainly wouldn’t let anyone else see them.

If time with my family is important to me, I have to schedule it. I have to invest in it–with my money, my time, and my effort. If self-improvement is a priority, I have to invest in it. Most of us have careers or at least jobs to support us, and we spend varying amounts of time and money in the pursuit of education, training, and just plain working. There are also the requisite adult activities, including paying bills, cleaning, shopping, cooking, laundry, etc… But none of these things take up EVERY second.


I just finished an extended time of studying in preparation for an exam. New rules were promulgated by USA Gymnastics in May and I have been studying specific parts of the rules in preparation for the exam I took last month. To make time for this creaky old brain to absorb some of the information, I had planned study times. I made flash cards. I used computer programs, made spreadsheets, color coded my notes and diagrams, cried, called friends and mentors, searched the internet for study aids and hints, ate chocolate, lost sleep, studied in my car, skipped activities, and began practicing yoga.

While studying, I worked a full time job, paid most of my bills, spent time with my kids, took two trips, maintained my yard and tiny garden, and did all the regular adulting required of single moms. However, I consciously spent time each week studying.


In the process, I also found creative ways to avoid studying. In this same time period, I put down flooring in two bedrooms, traveled to Texas one month and to Florida and Georgia another. In the last month, I cleaned out my pantry and repainted it. I also revived my Twitter Account, played on Facebook, and updated the books I have read or want to read on Goodreads–nothing vital, but great ways to expend vast quantities of time in lieu of studying.

God has graciously granted me time each day, each week, each month, and each year. I pray I’m not wasting it. A precious family just lost their daughter–she has no more time. They can’t go back and spend a single moment with her. All they have are the memories.


I want to live so that I have no regrets if tragedy strikes. I strive to maintain good relationships with family and friends so I won’t wish I had said or wish I hadn’t done…if it was our last time to together.

I am setting and achieving short term goals to improve my life. Time Management is so important, yet I let urgent tasks supersede the important. For now, I’m focusing on spending time intentionally in priority areas while also scheduling time for fun, because if it isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t happen.



PostScript–I failed the test I studied for all summer. (See Previous Post–I FAILED, but I’m NOT a Failure.)  I am studying again and praying that I do better next month!


When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? Not an email, an instant message, or a text, but a letter? Not a “Sympathy Card” or a “Get Well Card,” but an actual letter?  You know how they go: How are you doing? Here is what I’ve been doing, saying, dreaming, or thinking?

Do you remember being young enough to be excited when mail came? Before the box was filled with bills and appointment reminders, I remember getting notes from my grandmother or my pen pal. I remember being excited when a piece of mail came to the house in MY name!

Writing Letters is [almost] a lost art in our society.

I’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the lost art of writing letters this summer, along with thousands of others who have young men and women training to serve our country in the military. Technology impacts our lives daily, but the military strips it down to the basics when grooming young people to serve our country. Initial training involves separation physically from family and friends, as it always has. Now, it also involves removal of electronics so trainees can focus on their mission.

For the first time in some of their young lives, the new inductees in the military are unable to utilize cell phones, computers and other electronic devices for communication. Plunged into a new world and cut off from these things, they have taken to pen and paper like the generations before them. In the same way, their families can only communicate through letters. So, a whole new generation is learning how to write, address, and mail letters, then experience the anticipation, frustration, and joy while waiting for a reply.

Letters are so unique and so personal. Without emojis and built-in auto correct to tell us what to write, they wind their way through our thoughts and emotions. They sometimes have themes, but other times are random collections of thoughts and half-baked ideas. Some days the pen seems to have a mind of its own and you can’t get the words on the page fast enough. Other days, “Dear ____” is the only thing that comes to mind.

I’m grateful for this journey–watching my son’s letters develop from the equivalent of long text messages to missives with themes and and messages. I won’t tell him it’s developed his writing abilities this summer, but I think he will be pleasantly surprised with an improvement in his writing grades. Maybe he didn’t practice writing essays with three points, but he has honed his ability to say what he meant clearly and concisely.

It’s been fun to see his thought processes develop and his ability to convey his feelings improve this summer. I’ve missed him while he’s been gone and look forward to seeing him again, but I hope I’ll still get letters from him occasionally. I intend to write more letters by hand to him and to others.

Just for fun, write a letter! Write a letter to a friend you haven’t seen in a while–or to one you’ll see tomorrow. Some of our best thoughts appear on the written page, but if you don’t write, they stay hidden.

Happy Letter Writing….

Judy St. Clair–MY MOM

Happy Mother’s Day!I love my mom so much. When I was a teenager and so much smarter than her, we had rough times, but she has wised up considerably in the last quarter of a century! I’m so proud of all that has been learned, and grateful she gave me time to learn it.

My mom possesses an array of talents. I’ve been planning this tribute to her for quite a while, but actually composing it is so much harder than I expected. I’ve known her my whole life, and I owe so much to her, it has been hard to narrow down. I’ve tried to use a few categories to limit all I want to say. (I consulted my sister, Wendy, and my brother, Al for their ideas.)

ANIMALS–Mom has always loved animals. She had a horse while she was growing up–the source of some of her back problems currently. In her adult life she has owned fish, birds, a rabbit, cats, a dog and a squirrel. She rescued the stray dog by gaining his trust while she worked in her yard. Over time, she was able to pet him, brush him, bathe him, and he would follow her into the house. He bonded with her and loved her until he died.

The squirrel was  tiny kit when she found it, but she researched how to care for it and fed it every couple of hours until it grew big enough to go longer stretches. They had a cage in the house for it as it grew and became more lively, and she released “Heather” as soon as she was able to fend for herself. However Heather came back to get treats almost daily. When she injured a leg, mom took her back in and even convinced the vet to prescribe steroids to help her heal! Mom released her again when she was well. It was a ritual of visiting mom to go out and look for Heather and give her pecans.

CREATIVITY–While necessity may be the reason for invention, my mom’s creativity is inspiring. She could take whatever we had and make it into something amazing. School projects could get out of hand because she came up with creative ideas for them. She sewed clothes for all of us, and I’m grateful she taught my sister and me. It’s one of the skills I fall back on out of practicality and fun.

She decorated the bedroom Wendy and I shared with fabric on one wall, before any designer thought of it. She let us select our sheets from the S & H Green Stamp catalog, then she decorated the room around them. The piece de resistance was the wall she covered with sheets, then used pom-pom fringe to cover the edges! We loved our room.

FAITH–Mom loved us enough to take us to church each week–not send us, but take us even when we didn’t want to go. We learned our faith in God from her. I remember her preparing lessons for her Bible classes and for Vacation Bible School each year. I don’t remember lectures about serving others, but her example taught more than words could.

FOOD–She’s a great cook, although she would prefer to get out of the kitchen any time she could. She knew where the discounts were every day of the week, so we could eat What-A-Burgers when they were half price each week. When we got our first microwave, she loved experimenting with it, cooking eggs and almost everything in it!

She made enormous pancakes with bacon in them, which we devoured. Wendy even had a couple of friends that would frequently sleep in their vehicle outside the house so they could have pancakes in the mornings!

She learned to decorate cakes when I was young, and made cakes professionally occasionally. We loved it because there is a bit of waste any time you level layers to decorate, and we got to take the scraps and left-over frosting and have fun, then eat the evidence!

The complexity of the wedding cakes she made increased over the years. She made a cake for my stepbrother that looked like a bale of hay and a cowboy hat. It was so realistic that many of the guests thought they were props–not an edible cake!

FUN–She led the way in having fun with us! Of course she played games with us and made sure we had a little pool in the back yard when we were little. She hosted wonderful, themed birthday parties, and always had fun food and great ideas when we had friends over, but she still hasn’t grown out of having fun any chance she gets.

She would get us small salamanders at the Texas State Fair each year, then use thread to tie tiny leashes around their necks, which she pinned to our shirts for Show And Tell! I could “wear” my pet to school, then place it in a box for the rest of the day.

We loved our family camping trips each summer. When we were little, the campsites were primitive–meaning no shower houses. We walked to the outhouses a couple of times each day, and my parents hauled water from the one pump in the camp site so we could cook and drink. Later, they added showers and toilets! I remember her washing the boat constantly. We put the boat in the lake as soon as we had removed all the camping items from it and left it anchored until it broke and had to be repaired or we were packing to leave. Mom spent time in the lake every day using lake water and a cleanser to clean it inside and out, wiping down the seats, dash, and hull, organizing the ski ropes and fishing equipment, then windexing the windshields.

Before my sister could drive, mom would take her and her friends to roll houses, and taught her how to shoe polish a window! (I’m hoping the statute of limitations is up so she won’t be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor!) One of Wendy’s friends would write on mom’s car windows in the evenings. Mom would go outside with the Windex and clean it off, then he would return and do it again, and again, and again…

LOVE–Mom loves us unconditionally. I know she was disappointed when we messed up and didn’t act or live as she taught us, but she loved us through it. It took a great amount of love to listen to the three of us practice various musical instruments.

She and my dad went to every high school football game while my sister marched in the band–that’s dedication and commitment. I’m sure she couldn’t possibly count the hours she spent chauffeuring three kids. Al got us hooked on soccer when he was young, then there were soccer practices and games for three of us. Each of us played a musical instrument, so there were concerts, practices, and lessons. We sometimes wanted to visit a friend, and the church activities and camps kept her on the go.

We were fortunate to have a great Parks and Recreation program in Irving, Texas, while we were growing up. We took music lessons, played sports, and swam at the local centers. When we were old enough, we rode our bikes to the summer activities, but mom always drove us to the evening lessons. She even drove me to gymnastics lessons in Euless for a while–that was a big time and money commitment, and I am so grateful she encouraged our interests and found a way to allow us to try so many different things.

I am so grateful for all the lessons you have taught me! Thank you for loving us all through our delightful teenage years, and helping us learn how to ADULT! Thank you for encouraging our diverse talents and encouraging us to follow our dreams!

Shelley Ussery

Motherhood is hard work. Shelley Ussery knows this, but smiles through it all. We met at Camp Caudle and her kids are the same age as my oldest two. I am in awe of all that Shelley and her husband accomplish.

When you cook for a camp, you are up incredibly early to prepare breakfast, then lunch is under way while that meal is being cleaned up. If you are really lucky and have a large crew, you may get a few minutes to breathe before dinner preparations begin, but don’t count on it. Then, the evening snack has to be prepared a couple of times each week so the campers aren’t forced to eat candy bars and chips (HORROR!). When that is over, Shelley always had a plan for a treat during the workers’ daily meeting after campers are more or less down for the night. That means Shelley was up around 6 am and often still in the kitchen at 10 pm when the meeting was ready to begin, making homemade ice cream or brownies, etc.

On teen night, when the counselors and older campers get to stay an extra day, I really saw her creativity and culinary skills. She could walk through the coolers and see what was left, then throw together wonderful meals and snacks for the campers! I can look at a brownie mix and not figure it out, but she could look at 10 different ingredients and come up with different ways to prepare them to meet a variety of tastes. I truly admire her food preparation and planning in addition to her organization skills.

Due to her familiarity with the camp and her non-stop work ethic, she frequently ran to the cabins or bathrooms to be sure all the supplies were in place. I don’t know how she stayed on her feet all day and night, but she did it wall while making sure others had what they needed and were encouraged and able to keep moving!

Some people who work so hard behind the scenes at cooking and cleaning stay there. Shelley, however, always reached out to the adults and campers. If she was sent out of the kitchen to “take a break” because everything was “under control,” she rarely got out of the dining hall before someone wanted to talk to her. She listens intently to whatever is said. It’s such a rare gift to listen to someone with a thousand things buzzing through your mind, but never giving them the impression that anyone else exists. Shelley can do that, leave with a hug and move on to the next task. People trust her to listen without judgment, and to give wise counsel.

When my youngest was struck while crossing a street, she was taken to Children’s Hospital. One of my most vivid memories that evening was stepping into the waiting room to check in on my younger children. It was packed with friends who knew they couldn’t see her, but wanted to be there to offer their love, support, and assistance. Shelley is one of the people I remember seeing, and I was so touched by so many traveling so far to be there. I still tear up every time I remember it–they showed me love when my world seemed to be crumbling.

I love how Shelley and Kevin devote the time their kids are around to them. They love each other and work hard on their marriage, but they also chaperoned trips and helped with youth activities every opportunity they had. It helped keep their kids strong and enabled them to know their kids’ friends.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me! Thanks for showing me how to work hard without complaining! Thanks for supporting me when I needed it most!

Kathy Peterson

Kathy Peterson is a fun-loving, humble, gentle, loving sister in Christ. She has raised her two kids and they both love and respect their sweet mom, and her husband loves her, too. She is a Proverbs 31 Woman.

I met Kathy at church in Greenbrier. She always welcomed me, and I was drawn to her quiet confidence. My two oldest spent many Sundays at her house–staying there waiting for a youth activity to begin, or waiting for me to come pick them up. She even drove them to church camp and set up their bunks so I didn’t have to take off work.

Since her family lives on a piece of land bigger than ours, my city kids got to experience animals at her house that I’ve never owned. They both surprise me with their knowledge of animal husbandry–especially goats! They picked it up being at the Peterson’s house and helping out.

Kathy stays busy juggling her work, visiting and caring for family members in other locations, and the typical “mom” duties. But that doesn’t prevent her from taking care of others. She always listened to me when I was struggling, and never judged me for the choices I made. She has made numerous trips to visit my kids when they were ill, both at the house, and to various hospitals in Little Rock when the kids were there.

Last year, she and her daughter visited while Allen was in surgery. They sat with me to keep my mind occupied, and brought CHOCOLATE! There is no better friend than one who brings chocolate!

Although we don’t see each other frequently, I can call her at any time and know that she will be there for me. I hope she knows I would do the same for her. She has blessed me with her positive outlook, her gentle spirit, and her friendship.

Thanks for helping me fit in to a new church! Thanks for looking out for my kids too many times to count! Thank you for showing me how a Proverbs 31 Woman lives!

Renay Martin

Renay Martin puts others before herself. She has planned, organized, and run clothing giveaways at church the last couple of years. She teaches classes, cooks, encourages others and seems to be everywhere at once.

Life is like a mountain road, with each switchback leading you away from one perspective while exposing another vista. Some are delightful and breathtaking, like young love and new adventures. Others are dark and shrouded in grief, like unwelcome changes and death. Renay experiences both, but chooses to focus on the good without forgetting the grief.

Her oldest, Jansen, became a teenager recently, so she is getting to experience a new stage of motherhood. Her youngest, Maddox, is in kindergarten and I was blessed to teach his Bible class this year. He is sharp and so funny. When I asked him about his mom, he replied:

I love her because she gives me food. She has two iPads and that’s so totally not fair for me because she has a phone. Well, she doesn’t have a phone because she broke it.

Maddox Martin

Renay participates in the Race to Remember each year in honor of her daughter, Jillian, who passed away.  ( I can’t imagine the heartbreak and sorrow, the depths of despair she has visited. But she looks forward to a reunion with her little girl. She has two wonderful boys and a loving husband, and their family keeps striving for the prize.

Thank you, Renay, for showing me how to live and love after unspeakable loss! Thank you for your kind, encouraging spirit! Thanks for leading efforts to reach out to others and serve those in the community!

Irene Pennington

Pray for my friend, Irene, as she begins her next round of chemo.

My friend, Irene, is incredibly brave. She is also smart, talented, funny, and caring. She is battling Ovarian Cancer, and will begin chemo again right after Mother’s Day. Please pray for Irene and her family during this tough time.

We met in Junior High School. She was learning the oboe, and it was in the same portable classroom where I was butchering the clarinet.  Our teacher suggested I switch to oboe. It was different playing a double reed, and Irene became my teacher. She taught me what she had already learned–in a practice room in the other building. (Well played, Ms. West! Well played!)

When we moved to High School, she made the Symphonic Band, while I was placed in the Concert Band. They had fancy names, but we knew what they meant–she was much more talented than I was. Fortunately for me, the band director chose music which required an English Horn, so I was moved up and given a second instrument to carry. The best part, though, was being with Irene all the time. She made everything fun! We went on trips together, were in the flag corps during marching season, and she always smiled and laughed. Her optimism is contagious!

We lost touch after graduation, but reconnected through the magic of social media a couple of years ago. She is winning this war, fighting for herself and her family. She is aided by her family, and people naturally rally around her bubbly spirit.

I love the shirt she is wearing. It was designed by her family, utilizing words they choose to describe her! It’s part Rosie the Riveter and part Wonder Woman! It is Irene!

Thanks for being my friend in school! Thank you for teaching me so much about music, and life! Praying for you, dear friend!

Catherine Starnes

Catherine Starnes is someone I have admired from afar for quite a while. She is beautiful, creative, kind, and brave. She and her husband, Nick, worked with the college kids at church when I first met her. They were such a cool, hip couple, even with kids! Later, they uprooted their lives and took their young children to another country to serve in a mission field.

It was hard. I can’t imagine moving to a country where you are the outsiders learning a new language, new customs, and how to fit into a new culture. All missionaries struggle with the shock, but it is harder on some families than others. Catherine has posted  about some of  her personal struggles during this time, and it is so raw and honest.

I had the pleasure of teaching her daughter, Nora, in Bible class for a few months. I love talking to children about their parents because their perspective is so unique. At the time, her mom was looking for work and she was hoping her mom would get a job that would have benefits. She excitedly told me:

She might be able to work at Target! Then we get discounts on our video games!  My friends say, ‘I wish I had your mom–she’s awesome!’

Nora Starnes

What a tribute from a young lady who loves her mom! (Catherine isn’t working at Target, but Nora is recovering from the disappointment.) I am astonished by Catherine’s creative mind. She has an eye for photography and her pictures are stunning. She is also carving time out for herself to write–something near and dear to my heart.

Thanks for sharing your sweet family! Thanks for showing us your creativity! I appreciate your honesty about your struggles!

Marie Aldrich

Some people weave in and out of your life, reappearing at different junctures like a golden thread in a gingham napkin. Marie Aldrich and I met when we were both home schooling our children. We actually taught together at the Home School Academy in Little Rock for several years. A couple of years ago, we ran into each other frequently while taking our daughters to various medical appointments. Last year, we sat together at football games watching her son in the band and my son on the field.

Marie homeschooled her children for years, then returned to full time work as a teacher. She taught her kids despite her husband working or travelling out of state quite frequently. Marie always thinks of other people, having special compassion for children. She currently teaches at Conway High School.

She has faced her daughter’s illness head-on, taking her to specialists trying to get answers for her the problems she faces. She has changed the way she shops, what she purchases and how it is prepared trying to get relief for her daughter. Through it all, she cares for her younger son and works a full time job outside the home!

Marie is considerate of others, and content to let others shine while she facilitates. That’s a rare quality. I admire that because I’m a bit of an attention-seeker, but she sees the value in supporting others whether she gets credit or not. It’s a quality I am working on.

She is fun and looks for the humor in situations–even when she is exhausted from her long days. We ran into each other at Kroger recently and talked for almost an hour!

Thanks for being my friend and sounding board! Thanks for setting priorities and doing what is most important, not what others say you should do! Thanks for raising three great kids!