Susanna Shetley

Website URL: http://www.zealousmom.com Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Many are focused on graduations right now. Amidst the pandemic and nationwide protesting, we’re trying to help our young people celebrate this pivotal time in their lives. While the hype is primarily on high school and college graduates, there are other important transitions that have gotten lost due to COVID-19. 

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It’s funny how you can hear a story your entire life but don’t see its relevance until it smacks you in the face. 

Since childhood, my parents have told me the tale of the Hong Kong flu (H3N2 virus) during the winter of 1968. They weren’t sure where they contracted it initially. At the time, my dad was a student at Mars Hill College and worked as a short order cook in the student center. My mom was in her first year teaching public school. Both places were most likely rampant with germs. 

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It’s been said that when a cardinal appears in your yard it’s a visitor from heaven. I’ve been spending a good amount of time on my porch during quarantine. This daily ritual has offered many moments with the birds and trees. I’ve observed limbs acquire leaves and listened to songbirds serenade the neighborhood. And when a cardinal lands on a branch, I feel like it’s my mom visiting from afar. 

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This week Susanna Shetley, sales rep, digital marketing guru, mom blogger extraordinaire, Smoky Mountain Living contributor, shares her top 5 distractions during the COVID-19 Pandemic.  

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If you haven’t noticed, the boomers are having a hard time staying home during this pandemic. Doing nothing and performing tasks online doesn’t sit well with the natural disposition of this cohort. 

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Growing up, my family spent the week of Easter at Ocean Lakes Campground in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We had a little blue and white camper on Sharks Tooth Trail a few streets back from the ocean. Easter typically fell around our county’s spring break, so once that final school bell rang, we packed up our van and headed south. 

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a new executive order stating schools would remain closed through May 15 due to COVID-19. I watched the press briefing in a different room from my boys and when it was over, I quietly closed my laptop and sat for a moment trying to process. 

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I’m a child of the 1980s. 

With side ponytails on full hairsprayed display, my big sister and I kept busy making mixed tapes, riding banana seat bicycles and collecting plastic charms for our charm necklaces. We stayed up late watching “Dirty Dancing” and “Indiana Jones,” swooning over Patrick Swayze and Harrison Ford. We heated our food in BPA-laden plastic, drank from hoses and ran around our neighborhood for hours before returning home happy and spent and ready to hurriedly eat dinner so we could be in front of the TV by 8 p.m. to watch “Who’s the Boss” or “Growing Pains.” 

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 It was a crisp and cold morning. The lake was still, like a mirror. The sun had just risen. Every few seconds the bald eagle would glide through the sky and then swoop down to catch a fish in the water. 

If he missed, he would start over. 

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Lately I’ve been pondering the meaning of life. If everyone took their very best skills and traits and put those into the universe, think how amazing the world could be. I’ve also been considering what the future holds for my two boys and other children. With melting glaciers, yelling politicians, sports heroes dying in helicopter crashes and bizarre, deadly viruses spreading across the globe, it’s a wonder our youngest generations wake up hopeful each day.

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It’s been a somber few days since the world learned of the death of Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter, Gianna, and the seven other passengers on that helicopter in Calabassas, California. Hearing of the tragedy and reading the coverage made me realize that mortality stops for no one, not even a sports hero as big as Kobe.

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Last October, I turned 40. It made me evaluate where I was physically, emotionally and personally. About a month after this pivotal birthday, I had my wellness visit at the doctor. I be-bopped in, assuming labs and vitals would be just fine like they always are, but a couple days after the visit, I received a call saying my iron, B12 and hemoglobin levels were all significantly below normal. My mom passed away from a blood cancer so issues with blood and hemoglobin terrify me. 

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When I was a little girl, my dad would make huge snack trays on New Year’s Eve and pour sparkling grape juice in crystal flutes for my sister and me. He and my mom had their own flutes brimming with champagne. Once we watched Dick Clark count down in Times Square, we’d clink glasses, spin noisemakers and state our resolutions for the coming year. 

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It seems a lot of folks are downsizing Christmas this year, me included. My reasoning is specific to my life and emotions, but nonetheless, there appears to be a general theme: Experience over consumerism. 

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I was recently introduced to a book called What Made Maddy Run written by reporter Kate Fagan. It’s the story of a beautiful, smart, talented college freshman who jumped to her death from the top of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. Madison Holleran was the perfect all-American girl on a track scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania when the pressures of perfection and the demons within created a toxic cocktail.

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Tattoos often follow times of darkness or transition. When my mom’s cancer got to a point of no return, I realized how brief and fleeting life could be. Why was this happening to us? She was too young. I was too young. Woven into my grief and anger was an epiphany, a heightened sense of what it means to fully live. Around this time, I had “One Life, One Story” tattooed on the inside of my left forearm. It’s a constant reminder. We’re offered a single chance to craft the narrative of our lives, and we’re not always in control of the ending. 

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My two boys are children of divorce. That’s a phrase I never thought I’d say. But then again, life never really unfolds in the way we intend. And when things go awry, we can only shift and adapt. 

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I turn 40 years old this week. 

The idea has not been settling well, and I’m not sure why. I’m an optimist on most matters, but this pivotal birthday has been bothering me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not quite where I want to be professionally or maybe it’s because ever since my mom passed away, mortality feels real and life seems fragile. Whatever the reason, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. 

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When I was 7 years old, my dad spent hours assembling my Strawberry Shortcake dollhouse, taking time to ensure every plastic, colorful piece clicked in place so his little girl would squeal with delight on Christmas morning.

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This is our annual Living Well issue where we offer suggestions and advice on topics related to fitness, nutrition and wellness. It’s always fun to brainstorm ideas and decide what content will benefit our readers or what’s the hot thing right now for consumers. Is it an eating program like the Keto diet? Is it an exercise craze like Crossfit? Or, perhaps it’s a product like CBD. 

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As a kid, I took the Blue Ridge Mountains for granted. They were always there in the background, but I never paid much attention. 

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Leaving Watami Sushi & Noodles on Main Street in Waynesville, I smiled at the hostess, a girl named Hannah. She responded with an expression of recognition and we chatted. Hannah is a senior at Haywood Early College (HEC). I’d met her the previous week when I taught a session on blogging. Though we’d only been together a short time, we remembered each other. 

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Wed., Aug.14, marks the third anniversary of my mom’s passing. During those early weeks and months after she slipped into the great mystery, I wrote a lot about grief. This column and my blog became healing outlets. Kind, compassionate words from friends, readers and even complete strangers held me up during those early days following her death. 

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We had plans to take the kids to a remote island outside of Charleston for a summer beach trip. I had visions of cooking big meals, walking on the barren sand, quiet evenings and mornings on a balcony, perhaps some fishing and kayaking off a sound. 

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It’s important for us to name that which brings us gratitude. This week, I’m grateful for the fleas that invaded my home like a tiny insane army. 

One of my favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, often speaks and writes about a concept called outer order inner calm. In the introduction of her book with the same name, she says, “In the context of a happy life, a messy desk or a crowded coat closet is a trivial problem—yet getting control of the stuff of life often makes it easier to feel more in control of our lives generally.” 

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Last Friday, as I watched the U.S. women’s soccer team defeat France at the Parc des Princes stadium, I kept thinking how hot everyone looked. I enjoyed watching the game, but couldn’t help noticing the profuse sweating from players and spectators. 

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Burlesque dancing may be in my future. 

Some of us gals at The Smoky Mountain News have been invited to attend a burlesque dance class. As we were mulling around the idea recently, I told them I could only do it on a weekend my boys were with their dad. 

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The final school bells have rung. 

When I was teaching, the last few weeks of school were grueling and felt never-ending. Once students were finished with end-of-grade testing, they kind of went wild, as if they’d held it together all that time and could no longer maintain their instinctive desire to run, jump and talk nonstop.

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Female empowerment is all the rage right now. From school-age programs like Girls on the Run to the #MeToo movement, the advocacy for equal rights and fem-respect is paramount. As a woman, I’m happy to see our gender being supported and heard. 

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I was seven years old when my parents first took me to New York. We couldn’t afford to stay in the city so we rented out part of a home in New Jersey and commuted to Manhattan. These were the days before Airbnb and VRBO, so I commend my parents for being resourceful enough to find a way for us to make the trip, despite a tight budget. 

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The thing I miss about teaching is human connection, being part of something bigger than myself. 

When I was in the classroom, I bemoaned the exhaustive red tape that is public education. It’s an antiquated system when it comes to encouraging teachers to do better, be better. 

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Late in life, my mom created a bucket list. It wasn’t in response to her cancer diagnosis, but once she passed away, the list became serendipitous. 

One item on her list said, “Take a trip to Africa.” 

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I’ve learned it’s impossible to make everyone happy. 

This column has been a part of my life for a number of years. I remember my first meeting with Scott McLeod, the publisher of The Smoky Mountain News. We met for coffee to discuss how the column would manifest. There’d been only a handful of female columnists before me and he wanted a woman’s voice included in the Opinion section of the paper. 

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I’m sick of looking at a pair of stylish winter boots sitting beside my bedroom door. I have other cold-weather shoes, but these gray boots seem to go with almost every outfit and also stay dry in the wetness that has become the meteorological norm as of late. Each time I pull these boots over socked feet, I’m reminded that spring has still not quite sprung. 

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Ever had a life-changing book fall into your literal hands? This happened to me recently. 

I order my favorite rare, organic products through an online company called Thrive Market. I’m offered a free gift with each order. About five months ago, I received powdered collagen, which has since become all the rage with folks trying to preserve their skin, hair, bones and joints. Now, I’m hooked on it. 

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Both my parents were teachers. My earliest memories are of my dad sitting at our dining room table grading papers or writing grants. Once I started school, my afternoon routine was to hang out in the media center at my mom’s school, munching on snacks from the vending machine, while she wrapped up for the day. 

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When my mom was living, she owned a tour company called Southern Comfort Tours. She opened the business in her 60s after retiring from 30 years in education. It was a lifelong dream and she made it happen. 

Along with extensive trips, she offered small day trips around Western North Carolina and other areas of the Southeast. One of her day trips was to Hendersonville where she would take guests to places like Flat Rock Playhouse, Highland Lake Inn and the Carl Sandburg home. She loved talking about her itineraries and chattering about this location or that venue.

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“It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” 

I recently stumbled upon this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. It was from a video interview he did years ago. Dr. King, of course, was talking about African-Americans and how it was simply wrong and unfair to free them from slavery yet give them no land, no money, no food and no boots and still expect them to create a life for themselves. 

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Last week my boys flew on an airplane for the first time without me. I was a nervous wreck to say the least. They went on a trip to Universal Studios with their dad and his girlfriend, so aside from already being sad about not being there to make memories with them, my stress was heightened by the fact they were in the air and I was on the ground. 

The hardest part about divorce is missing out on chunks of your children’s lives. As their mom, it feels disorienting to not be with my children all the time or for them to experience new adventures of which I’m not a part. 

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What is a New Year’s resolution anyway? Just a statement we make aloud while toasting friends and family with a flute of champagne? Apparently, over 30 percent of Americans make resolutions with every intention of seeing them through, but only 8 percent actually succeed. A while back I gave up the tried and true ritual of resolutions. I rarely achieved mine, which always left me feeling guilty and defeated. 

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I haven’t always known how to feel grateful or identify the feeling of joy. There are certain lessons in life only learned through experience. No matter how many books are read or classes taken, hard-fought living is our one true teacher. In this season of gratitude, I’m reminded that my ability to feel thankful and happy is a recent revelation. I’ve also realized that through loss, a person can gain everything.

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When the winds rage the sea, we look for an anchor. 

As my life continues to unfold, I’m learning there are things over which I have little control. Like any human, I at first try to manhandle situations. Every single time, I try to come up with a solution or fix the issue before I realize God and the universe have other plans. I’m working hard to stop this and rather, approach each day with curious expectation. 

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Funny how when you’re living in a moment, you don’t realize how truly special the moment is. Only later in life does the full onslaught of gratitude cover you like a warm nostalgic blanket. That’s how I feel when I reflect upon Thanksgiving days of the past. 

Every Thanksgiving morning, my sister and I would wake up and wander into the kitchen bleary-eyed and still wearing pajamas. As the Asheville Christmas Parade played on WLOS, my mom would be sipping coffee and have already cooked cornbread and biscuits, the beginning ingredients for my great-grandmother’s dressing recipe. 

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The night after my mom died, my dad stepped out on the front porch with my brother-in-law, whose father had passed away only a month earlier. As they looked up, two shooting stars, one after the other, flew through the night sky. We were convinced it was our two family members comforting us from afar.

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My mom was a librarian and my dad an English teacher so books were always stacked on the dining room table or tossed on the floor beside recliners. As a young girl, I carried a novel with me all the time. 

My very favorite book was The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remember hiding it on the shelf at my elementary school library so no one else could check it out. I think I read it at least 10 times in a three-year span. It’s funny I didn’t ask my parents to just buy it for me, but these were the days before Amazon and there was something magical about holding it in my possession for only a short period of time. 

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As a child, I wanted to grow up and plan a big fancy wedding with a ruffly white dress, then have two little girls and name them Veronica and Samantha. As one of two girls in a family of four, this is all I knew. My middle-class childhood wasn’t indulgent in any way, but it was happy and secure. My sister and I knew our parents loved us more than anything. Both my mom and dad worked multiple jobs to give us opportunities and experiences we couldn’t have otherwise had. I’m forever appreciative of that, and I 100 percent credit them for nurturing and encouraging my adventurous spirit. 

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Almost two years ago, I traveled to Iowa with a close friend of mine. We visited her hometown to see her family and attend a concert. One day, we shopped around at a popular store called RAYGUN. It’s one of those quirky stores with cards, magnets, T-shirts, pint glasses and other items adorned with sarcastic, political or satirical sayings and quips. 

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My name is Susanna and I am terribly unorganized. 

I’m not a messy person or a hoarder, just disorganized. My desk is a mess of papers and sticky notes. I always have a million tabs open on my laptop. My closets and cabinets and pantry are full of stuff with no thought to rhyme or reason. I have to dig in my purse for three minutes to find lip balm. My shoes are thrown into the bottom of my closet so it takes inordinate amounts of time to find a matching pair. 

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I took my first baton lesson when I was 3 years old. My sister had been twirling for a while, so baton practice and competitions were the norm for our family. Four of our baton teachers were Clemson Tiger majorettes and my parents grew up in Greenville, S.C. We frequented many a football game in Death Valley wearing purple and orange and hearing “Tiger Rag.” 

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Three of life’s top five stressors are death of a loved one, divorce and moving. Within the past two years, my mom passed away, I got a divorce and bought a house. I say this not for pity but as a fact that’s required for the rest of this column to unfold, and the anniversary of my mom’s death is this week so it’s hard to think of anything else.

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