Out of Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, GIFTS is probably my least important. I admire my friends and family members who easily assess another person’s needs and passions and cheerfully share their resources. Don’t get me wrong—receiving a well thought out gift warms my heart, and I can be generous when I see a need, but choosing the right gift for someone (especially at Christmas) feels more like a chore, fraught with emotional baggage. In fact, many years ago I relinquished this task to my husband who happens to enjoy the process. It’s his gift to me that meets my primary love language: Acts of Service.

Here’s what goes on in my head when I give a gift:

  • How many stores do I have to visit?*
  • I can’t decide what to get.
  • What can I afford?
  • What if they don’t like it?
  • Is this just adding to their clutter?
  • Do they really need it?
  • Will they be disappointed with my choice?
  • Could this resource be used better elsewhere?

Or when I’m given a gift:

  • How do I receive it graciously if I don’t care for it?
  • Am I expressing enough gratitude if I do?
  • Is reciprocation expected?

I’ve asked for the same thing (nothing!) for Christmas for the past umpteen years, but no one will listen. At the very least, I like things that get used up and don’t clutter my space, and I’d rather use those resources for someone in need. My favorite was when a daughter gave the gift of a goat in my name to a needy boy in Africa.

I’ve come to realize, however, that my dismissal of others’ gifts robs them of the joy of giving. Just because I feel angst over the process does not mean they do. I’ve also learned to follow my mother’s model of expectation: “Let me have the pleasure of giving this to you. What you do with it does not concern me. It’s yours to do with as you wish. This frees you from of the guilt of tossing or regifting.”

And so, I began the year by working through my emotions and false beliefs over this subject. Next, I set a monetary goal for how much I would spend this year in gift-giving. I’m not a shopper, but if I saw an item that might interest a friend or family member, I made the purchase and then gave it at a random time. I found more pleasure in this exercise than the obligatory birthday and Christmas events.

At first I kept a record of my gifts, but midway through the year, I began to lose interest in the tally and forgot about it. I’d met my goal, but I didn’t need to stop the habit of trying to make people smile.

And then Christmas 2022 happened. With no more triggers holding me back, I delighted in each gift received, and I’m already thinking about what to give next year!

What’s your least important love language and why?

*I think the greatest invention is the Wish List on Amazon. Even I can pull that one off without too much effort!

Word for the Year 2021: Handicap

I confess I have an abysmal sense of direction, and it’s getting worse with age. I Googled “bad sense of direction” to get some tips for improving my odds and collected maps for cities I frequent. Every day for the first month, I studied our local map, trying to memorize street names and cement a visual mind map to guide me. What a useless endeavor! Apparently, I am incapable of thinking and driving at the same time.

When I read a blog by someone who unashamedly labeled his poor sense of direction a HANDICAP (and many people resonated with his plight), I concluded I cannot change my brain enough to warrant shedding my trusty GPS. So, there you have it—one Word for the Year tossed in the trash, and I needed a replacement.

Following my recovery from Covid in November 2020, I decided to chronicle my journey with another hidden HANDICAP—loss of taste and smell. First, I tried the famous burnt-orange trick that went viral (useless) and sniffed three different essential oils three times daily for the suggested smell training ritual. For two weeks I quadrupled my intake of zinc. Nothing.

I spit out my first cup of coffee, tasteless as water. When I tried sniffing freshly ground coffee beans, a disgusting malodor greeted my nose. At least I’m smelling something, I reasoned, but this annoying odor lingered nonstop for months. Everything smelled the same: smoke, pizza, cat litter. I became the designated dirty-diaper queen for my youngest grandchild.

In the first three months, I burned up three frying pans because I couldn’t rely on smell to alert me. I no longer dared leave the kitchen during the simmering process. I lost what little interest I had in cooking or making menu decisions. For the first time in our 46 years of marriage, I didn’t care if I ate my husband’s bland-diet preference over my spicy palate. It all tasted the same, so what was the point?! I now had to rely on him to inform me if meat had spoiled or the seasoning wasn’t right in a casserole.

One day we decided to treat our grandsons to ice cream. As we approached the drive-through, I asked the 10-year-old what he thought I should order since I wouldn’t be able to taste it. “Cheapest thing on the menu, Grandma!” he said. Smart kid! And later, his 7-year-old brother asked, “Why eat anything at all?” I explained that food fuels the body, but regrettably, I had begun to choose peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches over healthy salads. Growing our Tower Garden felt pointless.

With the loss of eating pleasure, I learned to tune more into how hunger felt instead of eating what I craved but, disappointingly, I lost no weight. Eventually I began to differentiate between salty, sweet, bitter, and sour, but could taste no nuances of flavor. I put hot sauce on everything, trying to elicit a little zing for the tongue.

I tried hard not to complain but failed miserably and so began a regimen of gratitude for my other four senses. When I finally got tired of hearing myself complain, I asked God for a better solution and stumbled on Isaiah 65:5b: These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. (NLT)

And that’s when He gave me this idea: every time I smelled that repulsive odor, I would think about the stench in God’s nostrils and pray for someone. It helped refocus my attitude.

By August I noticed a subtle shift in relinquishing the malodor and enjoyed a hot curry Indian dish. Coffee became my gauge for progress. I went from gagging to tolerating a quarter cup, to drinking half a cup if I held my nose during the brewing process. I jumped in glee when I got a whiff of burnt toast. Someone claimed if you didn’t get your smell and taste back after nine months, it would be permanent. Oh, Lord, I hope not! I was into my ninth month and counting . . .

In September, someone suggested I try fascial counterpressure (whatever that was!). I found a practitioner 30 minutes away and promptly made an appointment but returned home with no noticeable results and fewer dollars in my wallet.

In October, I read Numbers 11:1-9 where the Israelites complained about eating manna every day. They missed their pungent fish, along with the flavorful cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. I could relate! I used to fault these people for their ingratitude, but now I felt convicted over my similar lament. I so missed the diversity of flavors. I wanted to discover the sweetness of holy manna and be thankful for what I had instead of grief over what I’d lost. How could I learn to leave Egypt behind and embrace the promise of a new land?

I continued to struggle with my attitude, complaining about my loss. I had an appointment with food three times a day, and three times a day I had to face the keen disappointment of loss of pleasure. Five times in Numbers 15 the phrase “an odor pleasing to the Lord” caught my attention. I couldn’t smell, but God could; and I wanted my attitude, thoughts, and deeds to be a pleasing odor in His nostrils.

It was like I was holding onto the end of a rope connected to taste and smell. Letting go of the rope didn’t mean I wouldn’t eat; it meant letting go the pleasure, the drug. When I dropped the rope, I watched in astonishment as it retracted like a tape measure into the food. The flavors were still there, but they were no longer tied to me. They don’t belong to me and therefore have no power over me. Now I can pick up food, examine it, see it, feel its texture, and experience it. It is what it is.

Over a year later now, I have adjusted (mostly) to my hidden handicap, and I rejoice in every whiff of smoke or incremental change in flavor. It’s okay that I can’t smell dirty diapers, but I sure do miss my coffee!

Oh taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (PS 34:8 KJV)

My biggest disappointment is not being able to taste injera ba wat (Ethiopian food)

For further reflection:

I checked out the Scriptures (RSV) and found the following words: Nose 12x, Nostrils 14x, Smell 20x, and Odor 43x. I even found a blog on the subject: Just a Thought . . . God’s Nose (constantcontact.com)

Word for the Year 2020 – Fun!

After listening to a series of Annie F. Downs’ podcasts on the subject of the 9 points of the enneagram, I noted she always ended her show with “What do you do for fun?” Since I’m a serious “1” on the enneagram chart (always motivated by doing what’s right), the words “That sounds fun” do not come naturally or trippingly off my tongue.

The more I listened to Annie, the more I knew that I needed more fun in my life, so this year I determined to embrace spontaneity and joy in the little pleasures in life—to do an activity just because “That sounds fun.”

I discovered in the process that if I declared “That sounds fun” regarding an upcoming event, even if that event had potential negative aspects to it, just saying the words out loud enhanced the pleasure of the activity and helped to dispel the gloom. To decide ahead of time that something is fun helps to make it so.

The year started out great, but quickly deteriorated with the onset of COVID. With exciting overseas and stateside travel plans canceled, I had to be content with smaller activities that might bring pleasure. Here’s a list of some of my favorites. What would be on YOUR list?

Visit the library: That sounds fun!

I started the year off by reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean, the story of the great fire of 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library. It reminded me how much I love libraries and how much I’m missing out by always choosing e-books for their convenience and readability. And so I indulged in the simple pleasure of visiting our public library and checking out a physical book—just because I could.

COVID perspective: I’m so ready to revisit a real library again!

Adopt” 2 Chinese students: That sounds fun!

Jiamin and Chenlu

Last year we hosted two sweet MTSU ladies. Once a month we picked them up from campus to introduce them to American culture. We went on hikes, visited local museums and attractions, took them to local restaurants, celebrated holidays, and exchanged cooking experiences.

COVID perspective: All those fun times screeched to a halt in March 2020.

Organize something: That sounds fun!

I removed a large bagful of unwanted clothing from my bedroom closet and rearranged, sorted, and tidied the rest. Next, I tackled the hall closet, followed by reorganizing my jewelry boxes.

COVID perspective:  A wasted effort! I’ve hardly worn jewelry all year with my ubiquitous jeans and t-shirt wardrobe.

Play with the grandboys: That sounds fun!

This one’s a no-brainer . . . Visiting baby William’s dedication; making oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies with Jack, Ben, and Noah; telling “Grandma Special” stories, taking them out for ice cream treats, and playing games together.

COVID perspective: In March, fun quickly changed to outdoor activities only, including hiking, visiting the zoo, drawing with sidewalk chalk, and playing in the backyard or table games under the carport.

Eat something spicy: That sounds fun!

Spicy fish and exotic mushrooms

At the Country Club I tried spicy curry chicken with roasted root vegetables, squash casserole, and cranberry nut bread. Outstanding! Another day, my daughter Sharon introduced me to Oscar’s Taco just down the street. Fish tacos are the best! And the Chinese students fixed us exotic, spicy dishes to sample. (Note: This is MY list of fun, not Scott’s!)

COVID perspective: Take-out just doesn’t taste the same. I miss eating inside, leisurely.

Pray with clients: That sounds fun!

I love my ministry . . . but on the way to the office one day to pray with one of our more challenging clients, I declared out loud, “That sounds fun.” And this time it actually turned out to be so!

COVID perspective: Though we can no longer meet in person, I’m so thankful for technology that has kept our ministry alive.

Get a massage: That sounds fun!

Oh yeah! What’s not to like?

COVID Perspective: Too bad I had to cancel my appointment the week I came down with the dreaded coronavirus!

Scott and Karen Days: That sounds fun!

Civil War graveyard at the Carnton House, Franklin, TN

My Christmas gift to Scott last year was for once-a-month, all-day-together time —uninterrupted, just the two of us, doing any fun activity of his choice. The very first scheduled day in January, Scott was laid up with a wrenched back, so I sat in the den with him and read almost an entire novel. Guilt-free reading time. What’s not to like about that? In other months, we went to movies, played golf, and visited historic sites.

COVID perspective: When I came down with COVID, I was sorry we had to cancel November’s date while we isolated on opposite sides of the house. Fun was sitting in the sunshine together on the deck 12 feet apart from each other for 20 minutes.

Walk somewhere new: That sounds fun!

This wasn’t the actual scene that day, but it does hold special memories.

I took off for a walk late in the day. Thousands of blackbirds were swarming against a red, sunset sky and a full moon. The whole scene took my breath away and filled my soul with joy.

COVID perspective: This is one activity I’ve been able to continue.

Reconnect with MKs: That sounds fun!

Steven Dowdell, a fellow boarding school MK (Missionary Kid), dropped by to see me on his way through town. It had been 50 years!

COVID perspective: Though we had to cancel our Class of 72 reunion in Florida in May, we enjoyed connecting from around the world through Zoom.

Start a new puzzle: That sounds fun!

I walked to Goodwill, just a few blocks away, and came home with a bagful of puzzles. At the height of the lockdown, we drove to Nashville to exchange puzzles with our daughter Sharon.

COVID perspective: Haha! Take that, you Virus! Nothing can stop me here.

Join a book club: That sounds fun!

Our first and only meeting was delightful. I met some new ladies, and we chose our first book.

COVID perspective: And then it closed. It was fun while it lasted!

Play golf: That sounds fun!

Sewanee Golf Course atop Monteagle Mountain, TN

Until just a few years ago, I could not have said “golf” and “fun” in the same sentence. But now it’s a joy to spend time with Scott, out in nature, hunting for my many lost balls.

COVID perspective: Bring your own clubs; don’t share carts; it’s all good.

Celebrate my birthday: That sounds fun!

At first, I didn’t think it would be . . .

COVID perspective: . . . then three good friends arrived in my backyard wearing masks and gloves and holding up signs, while they sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

Celebrate Mothers’ Day: That sounds fun!

After being isolated for two months, my daughter Cindy and her family arrived at my door to hand me a gorgeous hydrangea, and then I blew bubbles with the boys outside. I couldn’t stop smiling.

COVID perspective: See next entry.

Go hiking: That sounds fun!

In late May, Cindy and her 3 boys and I took a 4.5-mile hike together. Ben (7) kept forgetting to keep his distance on the trail and would reach out and take my hand. I even carried Noah (3) on my back for a bit. They loved playing in the water and throwing stones. I also went on many hikes alone this year.

COVID perspective: This is when I decided that isolation from the grandkids was for the birds. We stopped social distancing with them after that.

Go to Sonic for ice cream: That sounds fun!

Scott and I drove up close to the Sonic order menu and turned off the car (but left the radio running) while we sat there enjoying our ice cream. In that short time, the battery drained, and we had to call AAA to come give us a jumpstart!

COVID perspective: I’m sure glad it was successful as Scott could not open his door, and we would have had trouble finding a ride home due to social distancing.

Visit my brother: That sounds fun!

Paul and Joan with daughter Joanna +2, me and Katie +1

Though we only live a few hours from each other, coordinating schedules is a challenge since Paul travels much of the year. But we pulled it off in June while I was visiting Katie.

COVID perspective: This connection was only possible because of Paul’s travel restrictions!

Celebrate Fathers’ Day: That sounds fun!

The whole family went together to play mini-golf. Noah (3) declared, “When I was your age, Grandma . . .”

COVID perspective: Scott brought his own putter.

Grow a tower garden: That sounds fun!

It was a steep learning curve! I learned how to make sun-dried tomatoes, as we had a proliferation of cherry tomatoes.

COVID perspective: A safe, outdoor activity

Tell you my favorite grandchild funny: That sounds fun!

So I was watching 4-year-old Noah one week and asked him what his favorite Bible story was. After some blank looks and shoulder shrugs, we talked about Adam and Eve, and then I asked if he knew about his namesake and the big boat. “Nope.” And so I began a dramatic rendition of the timeless story, emphasizing the animals, the 2 by 2, and the 8 people (count them). Though I did mention it, 40 days and 40 nights means little, as does the length of one year since this little tyke’s time frame includes “I went to the zoo tomorrow.”

Grandma: . . . And after the water went down, God opened the door of the boat, and Noah saw dry land at last. (Dramatic pause) And what do you think was the first thing Noah did?

Noah: He peed?

(Well, wouldn’t you if you’d been cooped up for a year!!!???)

I couldn’t stop giggling.

COVID perspective: Find fun where you are!


The problem is when labor becomes the only thing that defines who we are. When we come to see things like rest as a negative space defined by the absence of work. When we fail to recognize the value of rest for building our sense of self.

(Alex Pang WordPress Hurry Slowly)

All of my life I’ve set goals for the year, for the month, for the day. I’m a task-oriented person driven to make to-do lists. In college, my schedule was so tight I kept a minute-by-minute chart (no kidding!) for each day’s goals and activities. The advantage of this discipline is great productivity; the disadvantage is that flexibility cannot dwell in your vocabulary.

Marriage, and especially children, tended to upset my neat calendar rows, and I began to relinquish my grip on defining productivity as success. Some days just keeping a child fed, dry and safe was my goal for the day.

I’m in a lovely season of adulthood right now where I get to choose how I manage my time—no school bells, no appointments unless I make them. I have no imposed time frames from outside sources. If I were not so goal-oriented, I could imagine myself sitting all day long in a comfy chair with a book on my lap. But I don’t—there is work to be done, things I want to accomplish, ministry to attend to, and relationships to maintain.

Growth and maturity and balance, for me, have come from watching people-oriented people. I’ve attempted to embrace the fact that people are more important than schedules and “being with” is just as important as “ministering to.” But I cannot change my basic temperament, and I continue to set goals for accomplishment.

After the previous year’s marathon goal of stretching myself once a month, immediately I knew my word for 2019 would be REST. But what would that look like? Did it mean I would cancel all my prayer ministry clients? Put editing Simroots on hold for a year? Hire a housekeeper? No, it meant I would cease from self-imposed goal-setting for self-improvement. I could relinquish my “have-tos” and begin to relax. Just for a year.

RESTWhen I put the word Rest on my kitchen whiteboard, my friend Cheryl wrote more words vertically under each letter. Pretty clever and spot on I thought. I also came up with the acronym REST G (Releasing Every Situation To God).

What I learned this year: Resting is sometimes harder for me to do than doing! Jesus is my Sabbath rest.

What was your Word for the Year? How did that go?

Click on the links below to see some of my previous years.

Word for the Year 2012 – Adventure

Word for the Year 2013 – Word

Word for the Year 2014 – Food

Word for the Year 2015 – Hike

Word for the Year 2016 – Unplugged

Word for the Year 2017 – Neighborhood

Word for the Year 2018 – Stretch

Word for the Year 2018 – Stretch

For the past 20 years or so, I have chosen a Word for the Year on which to focus. This year it all began with a bad back. I had spent more money than I care to recount at the chiropractor’s office, so when she recommended a book that claimed to fix back problems with stretch exercises, I was all ears. And then I began to think about what it would look like to s-t-r-e-t-c-h mentally. I don’t want to turn into a crotchety old lady, set in her ways, unwilling to stretch and grow. I want to stretch myself, learn new skills, go outside my comfort zone, establish new habits, explore a little, push through any fears or objections or self-doubt.

And so I began to brainstorm ideas and do a little research into free resources for beginners. I made the goal of beginning one new stretch each month. Some goals I continued throughout the year; others I did not. Here’s my list— and below that is how it all played out and what I learned in the process.

  1. Fix my back (yay!)
  2. Dance (seriously?)
  3. Learn something about photography (fun)
  4. Learn to draw (astonishing!)
  5. Visit a new country (Jordan)
  6. Learn the Hebrew alphabet (briefly)
  7. Read War and Peace (slogging)
  8. Maintain a blog (I did it!)
  9. Lose 15 pounds (good)
  10. Play golf (surprise!)
  11. Listen to the Beatles (ugh, okay)
  12. Do some brain exercises (sort of)

Fix My Back

Stretch Foundation bookI purchased a used copy of the book  Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence by Eric Goodman and Peter Park, a revolutionary book on exercises to strengthen your back muscles. I diligently read all the introductory stuff on why it works and then began slowly, adding a new daily stretch only after I’d mastered the first. Once my back muscles learned this new way of bending, I found I didn’t have to continue the regimen after the first month. Now, occasionally, if I feel a little twinge, I immediately go into the stretch routine and it seems to fix the problem.

What I learned: Gratitude! Do what you can, not complain about what you can’t do.


First, you have to know that I was raised in a culture that taught that dancing was a sin. Even “sacred movement” was a stretch for my imagination. Through the years, however, reason overcame emotion and I knew it was time to attempt the impossible. Somehow my eldest daughter Sharon inherited her grandparents’ (on Scott’s side) ability to move her body in ways that mine rebel against. She urged me to go with her to her dance studio to take my first ever ballroom dance lesson—the waltz. To make sure I would have a successful experience, Sharon taught me the box step in the privacy of my living room. I was shocked to discover I could actually follow instructions and make my body do what the instructor said: start with my right foot going backward and count out loud to six. Why did I think this would be so hard to do?

Next, I signed up for free line-dancing classes at the St. Clair’s Senior Center. The teacher was so patient and kind and encouraging that I actually began to have fun in spite of my two left feet! Will I continue? I doubt it. I just wanted to be able to say I did it.

What I learned: Quit the negative self-talk! With a positive attitude and lots of practice, I found some measure of success in this endeavor. (p.s. Didja notice I purposely have no photo for this one?)

Learn Something about Photography

Stretch shadow

Late afternoon walk

This was a rather nebulous goal since I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If you look at the photos on my phone, you’ll notice a theme: flowers, trees, flowers, trees, grandchildren, flowers, trees, grandchildren. I wanted to improve my ability to perceive what makes a good photograph, so first I enlisted my youngest daughter Katie, a professional photographer, to give me a lesson. We talked about perspective, lighting, and the rule of three and what makes a photo interesting. Next, I picked up an old textbook at a secondhand store and read through all the chapters except how to develop film (I said it was an old textbook). I figured out I didn’t care about apertures and lens types. I just wanted to learn more about composition, framing, clutter, etc.

What I learned: “It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Learn to Draw

I claim that when my sister Grace (a renowned gourd artist gourdsbygrace.com ) was born, she sucked all the artistic genes out of my mother’s womb and left me with the dubious ability of drawing stick figures and crooked lines. Our middle daughter Cindy is a master 3-D sculpturist. Talk about intimidating! I am in awe of her artwork. But she agreed to give me a lesson in the basic elements of art.

So what is a girl to do if she just wants to learn how to draw? I ordered a used copy of The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, and discovered that I’d been fooling myself all these years. I actually could draw if I could just get past my left brain!

Stretch hand

My left hand

Over the course of the year, I worked through the exercises in the book and began to train myself to see the world through different eyes. Will I ever be as good as my naturally-gifted family members? No way! I don’t have the drive or passion to spend the hours it would take to develop this skill. But it was a fun process of discovery.

MonkeyThen a friend told me about twice-a-month free art classes for senior citizens (there’s some compensation for getting older apparently). I decided I needed to get over myself and just make an attempt, no matter how bad the result. The teacher was encouraging and complimentary, and I began to gain a little more confidence each time I went. We were introduced to a variety of styles and mediums and techniques, so every attempt made me feel like a first-grader, but I made some new friends and we all muddled through it together. I threw away most of my creations but kept my papier-mâché monkey to add to my sock monkey collection.

What I learned: I was shocked to discover that I could actually do what I thought was impossible.

Visit a new country

Stretch camel


In April, Scott and I had the privilege of returning to Israel with Charlie Dyer (The Land and the Book), but this time we also visited Jordan. I found myself stretched in the dry wilderness, the border crossings, the foreign food, mosques in every town and village, the ladies all dressed in hijabs. But I think my biggest stretch experience was peeing while squatting over a hole in a bathroom stall and having to call for help from the male attendant when the door jammed shut!

The highlight for me was visiting Petra where I experienced my first camel ride. There we learned about Nabateans and the spice routes, and we purchased samples of frankincense and myrrh—gifts the Magi gave to Jesus at His birth (more expensive than gold we learned).

What I learned: Make sure to invest in good walking shoes. Stay hydrated but time your bathroom breaks!

Learn the Hebrew Alphabet

Stretch alefbetIn preparation for our trip to Israel, I found a website “How to Learn the Hebrew Alphabet in Under 1 Hour.” I tried it and it worked! Except that after that hour I forgot it. Yes, at my age it takes ten times as long to make information stick in my brain, so I had to keep practicing and reviewing and practicing and reviewing. However, I managed to make out most letters on the street signs in Israel. Never mind that I didn’t know what a word meant. I was just excited to be able to recognize the alphabet—read from right to left of course. Now that I’m back in the USA, I’ve forgotten half of it again. Sigh.

What I learned: It didn’t occur to me that, like English, there’s a difference between hand-written, printed, and signage letters, and oh, don’t forget the dots. Confusing!

Read War and Peace

War and Peace (Modern Library Classics)Ever since I began reading the classics in junior high, people would shudder if you mentioned the epic novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. The length alone was a deterrent to any but the most dedicated reader (my paperback copy, translated by Constance Garnett, has 1,386 pages). Besides, I have a mental block against the subject of history, so why not add this novel to my stretch goals this year! Before I began reading, I had zero knowledge of Napoleon, of Russian history, and of the War of 1812. I wish I’d known ahead of time that there was a summary of the War on page 1346.

I was determined not to cheat by reading Cliff Notes or downloading a list of characters from the Internet, so after encountering 61 characters in the first section alone, all of whom had multiple names and some had nicknames, I had to create an Excel chart to keep track of them all. I wouldn’t know which ones were important to the plot of the story till later. (Just so you know, among the four characters named Marya, Marya Dmitryevna Ahrosimov was not important.) And even then, deep into the novel, I had to continually refer back to my chart to figure out who was in love with whom. Eventually, I learned that I could ignore 90% of the names and keep following the handful of main characters.

I was so proud of my progress until the day I mentioned it to my history buff friend John Rogalsky who casually observed, “Oh, yeah, I’ve read it twice…” Are you kidding me?!

My favorite Quote: “I simply can’t understand why men can’t get on without war. Why is it we women want nothing of the sort? We don’t care for it.” (Prince Andrey’s wife Liza, p. 24)

What I learned: So was it worth it? You bet! I’m glad I did it, not just for the accomplishment but because of all that I learned in the process. Tolstoy had a lot to say about the causes of war, the forces that move nations, and the role of leadership in history. I also learned some new vocabulary words like cunctator (procrastinator) and excrescences (nodules or growths) and contumely (insolent or insulting language or conduct).

Maintain a Blog

Well, here you are! I had already typed up 40 pages of entries from my hand-written 2007-2017 journals, so I just started there—picking out topics that seemed relevant to this journey called life. And, yes, the over-arching theme I discovered was my pursuit to find inner peace.

What I’ve learned: Some people actually read this stuff. Astonishing!

Lose 15 Pounds

Stretch appI have an inherited blood sugar issue, so the thought of food reduction makes me nervous. Everyone has his or her own pet weight loss plan, but this is what worked for me. I downloaded the app “Lose it” and set my goal to shed 15 pounds at the rate of one pound a week. I loved how easy it was to keep track of what I was eating. Will I set a new goal? I’m not sure yet. Who gets to decide what’s a healthy weight for my age and gender? I feel better, and that’s what counts. The downside, for someone like me who hates clothes shopping, is I had to buy all new pants.

What I learned: Cheating on the app doesn’t help. It’s what you’re actually doing that counts. And drink, drink, drink. My goal was 64 oz. per day. Ugh. But it really and truly made all the difference in my success.

Play Golf

Stretch golfNotice I didn’t say, “Learn to play golf.” Anyone who knows my husband Scott knows that he was born with a golf club in his hand (his grandmother was a Canadian golf champion). Early in our marriage, Scott begged me to join him on the golf course, but my golfing career ended before it got started. The day I relented we were on the second hole when I got a call from the elementary school saying I needed to pick up a sick child. That was the end of that! But when my excuses finally wore themselves out (no money, too busy raising kids, no aptitude, arthritis pain), my sister-in-law gave me her old clubs, Scott bought me a golf bag for Christmas (oh goody) and signed me up for golf lessons with a pro. Thanks, Honey (okay, so there’s a tiny bit of sarcasm attached). My initial goal was not to learn to play golf but to simply spend time with my husband.

What I learned: When I started hitting that little round sphere well enough for it to go up in the air and forward instead of dribble, dribble, dribble, it actually started to get fun. I love being outdoors, so that is a bonus. Oh, and don’t let your husband give you lessons. Just don’t.

Listen to the Beatles

As a sheltered child of missionary parents whose sole musical exposure in Africa was church hymns and Gilbert and Sullivan (my mother’s favorite record), I shunned all things that smacked of rebellion when we came to the States. Listening to the Beatles was off-limits. Unable to converse with the music lovers in my family, however, I decided it was time to educate myself. I grabbed a biography from the library and learned all about quiffs, skiffle, winkle-pickers, and twat ‘ats. (If you don’t know what those are either, I’ll feel vindicated in my ignorance.) And then I listened to about as much music as I could take from a group that lived for sex, drugs, money, and creating new sounds.

What I learned: Just about everything, since I knew nothing. But what I learned confirmed why I’m still not a fan.

Biggest Surprises: The song “Ob la di, ob la da” [which I’d heard but didn’t realize was a Beatles’ song] meaning “Life goes on” was a phrase Paul McCartney heard from a Nigerian friend in London!

I also discovered that one of the first Beatles’ songs was a ditty we sang as children—“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Who knew!

Do Some Brain Exercises

After reading The Organized Mind—Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel J. Levitin, I was challenged to download an app called BrainHQ (from Posit Science) that provides daily exercises to improve one’s brain. By December I was tired of setting goals and keeping them, so there was no “daily” about this! I thought about purchasing the full version, but I knew I’d never take the time to make this a priority. As an alternative, I considered learning to understand American football, but I couldn’t muster up enough interest to follow through with it.

What I learned: How can one measure if one’s brain capacity has increased? I’ll have to take the experts’ word for it. I think it’s now time to give my brain a rest!

Now it’s your turn. Did you have a Word for the Year? How did yours turn out?