Gratitude Journals Another Way

Tags

As if it being a dreary and wet February isn’t enough to generate a bit of cabin fever, even in Virginia, we are still in the midst of Covid distancing nearly a year later. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and distracted with DIY projects or other creative endeavors, but I’m running low on ideas and enthusiasm. Even online retail therapy has lost its luster. Fortunately, I have a Rx for the dullness, thanks to my daughter and my brother.

About two years ago my daughter asked me to participate in a gratitude exchange with her for one month. Every day, we would text each other 3 things were grateful for. The idea is to refocus our thinking on the good things in life and break any negativity that is trying to take hold. We did it for that month, and then stopped. Around the same time, I was provoked by a meme I read: What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you expressed gratitude for today? So I doubled up my efforts to be grateful every night when I went to bed. And I think it helped me be at peace with some of the angst in the world, especially when I felt helpless with the politics of DC, or the cancelled plans because of an unforeseen expense, or the COVID-19 pandemic.

Late last summer, when the COVID scare was at its height, my brother expressed frustration over the restrictions on getting out and about. He has the bad luck to have retired in December of 2019, and COVID hit a few months later, so his dreams of a life of leisure…or at least of freedom…were being squashed. I suggested we try the gratitude exchange for a month. He wasn’t too keen but he didn’t say no, so I charged ahead. And I decided to include my daughter as well, since she was also having her freedom curtailed, having to be the homeroom monitor/teacher’s aide/full-time mommy to her two daughters. At the end of the month, I asked about continuing, and again, I didn’t get a No, so I took that as a Yes.

Since August of 2020, which is 7 months now, with maybe only one slip up, I have found something to be grateful for each day and to share that. And I get a response every day, too. The obvious benefit is that I am consciously grateful for not just the physical things or the people in my life, but other kinds of grace and abundance I have received. Things like the warmth of sunshine, a safe place to sleep at night, the smell of coffee in the morning, a recovery from a medical mystery, the joy of having a cake experiment turn out to be tasty, getting to celebrate holidays and birthdays on Zoom, catching up with friends on the phone, the satisfaction of finding an author I like to read, or the challenge of repurposing a piece of furniture or completing a puzzle.

My daughter is grateful for things like a meditation app to help her start her day with intention, and getting enough exercise, and that she is a person people reach out to for comfort. My brother has been grateful for things like leftovers, that an idea he had turned out to be workable, to know it would be 60 degrees warmer than a week ago (he lives in Minnesota!), and for a dream he had or enough firewood to allow him to keep working in his shed on a remodel project he has going on. It’s not always deep thinking for any of us. Some days I am grateful for my dogs, and she is grateful for a hardworking husband, and he is grateful for the plumber who fixed a frozen pipe. And we are grateful for being in touch with each other. for knowing someone doesn’t just care, but is actively thinking of the other.

There is a valuable side benefit, too, especially for those of us living solo. As it happens, a few years ago a friend fell in her home, and her son discovered her injury. He doesn’t live here but was stopping by on his way through town. That got me to thinking. I am a fairly healthy person, not on any medications, but I am on the far side of middle-aged and have had my AARP card for several years. What if something like that happened to me?

Who would know? What would I do? What about my dogs? My bedroom is on the second floor of my house, and some days I get to dodge three dogs going up and down. Plus, I have been known to fall off ladders and to tip over when trying to bend down and push or pull something in the yard. At that time, I contacted a sister of mine and set up a plan where I would text her every morning when I awoke. If she doesn’t hear from me by 8:00 a.m., she is supposed to try calling, and if she still can’t reach me, she is to contact a neighbor to have them come and check on me.

My brother also lives alone. He is diabetic and has had to make the occasional visit to the ER when his blood sugars are out of whack or he isn’t as rigid in his testing/eating/activity cycles as he could be. Not only that, but he lives on a couple of acres at the end of a dead end street. He could be in one of the outbuildings, and who would think to check on him? Our daily gratitude has morphed into a plan such that if I don’t get a text back from him in a reasonable time, I am to call. If he doesn’t pick up, I have a list of three contacts I can reach out to for them to physically check on him, before I resort to calling the cops for a welfare check. We both feel better having a plan. We may live over 1,000 miles apart, but we are only a phone call away, so neither of us has to feel like we are shipwrecked on individual desert islands.

We have another benefit of just catching up and sharing our days. For example, I might include that I am grateful for sunshine and blue skies after 5″ of rain and several days of gloomy clouds, so he knows what is happening weather-wise. He might say he is grateful for the good deal his daughter got on her new-to-her car, and that opens a conversation about news from our kids. My daughter might be grateful for a bit of time to be alone and read a book, which means we can share titles of good books.

Today I am grateful for a productive morning. I got my tax papers together for a meeting with my accountant this afternoon; I canceled an auto-renew setting for my roadside assistance; I contacted a dog-sitter; I organized my desk; and I wrote this blog post. It might be another cold and gray day outside, but I have a fireplace on, a fridge full of food, and friends who might read this and let me know they are still doing okay amid the continuing Covid restrictions.

Have you thought about what you are grateful for today? Feel free to comment below, and we can share our stories.

Help me, Paul and Prue (or even Betty Crocker)!

It was bound to happen, and one day it did. Too much Netflix one day and no internet the next, too close to Christmas, a shiny red toy, and so … this may or may not have happened in my kitchen.

A Christmas Tradition

Nowadays, easing up on sugar and carbs is the trend, but it’s not easy to give up on a lifetime of tradition, especially when we are talking Christmas cookies. Even though the dogs and I will be home for Christmas, alone thanks to Covid, I still wanted a few cookies and maybe some muffins for grazing while in my pajamas after the minute or three it might take me to open gifts.

My hand mixer has been faithful to me for more years than I can count, but sometimes she is slow to get started. Sort of like my hands’ ability to bend all the fingers at the same time or to open a jar of pickles. So when a friend offered to let me use her “spare” Kitchenaid stand mixer, I took her up on it. After all, I had jumped on the bandwagon carrying juicers, InstaPots, crock pots, bread machines, ice-cream maker things, George Foreman grills, Nutri-Bullets, Xpress sandwich makers, coffee frother things, and other gadgets I don’t even remember.

Kitchenaid Mixer, Anyone?

Oooh, a red Kitchenaid mixer! With a lifter feature that holds a 6 quart glass bowl. A heavy-when-it’s-empty 6 quart glass bowl, that is even heavier when it is filled with batter for 3 loaves of zucchini bread and even heavier yet with cookie dough for a few dozen cookies. And that lifter thing; turn the knob and the bowl raises and lowers. The head or neck that holds the beater paddle thing does not lift. So you get to lower the full bowl and disengage the whipper tool into the full bowl before disengaging the lifting studs and trying to not drop the contents while sliding it out of its nest so you can remove the thingy that mixes (or overmixes, as the case may be) your batter.

Well. I knew the fun was a marketing ploy as soon I started creaming my sugar and shortening. The paddle thing didn’t quite reach to the edge of the bowl, so I had to stop and lower the bowl regularly and use a hand-held spatula to push the mixture back into the middle. I saw on The Great British Bake Off someone who offered the tip to make sure to cream the sugar and shortening “enough.” Apparently, not creaming it enough is the cause of flat cookies and cakes. They turn it on and walk away even. So I let it do its thing.

Good Intentions Gone Awry

I had never had such creamy looking shortening. So creamy the egg didn’t really want to incorporate, so I had to leave that on a little longer. Eventually I got to the part when I had all the liquids in and was ready to add the 4 cups of flour.

Except in this wonderful red Pro 600 Kitchenaid, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver, and there is no splash guard. I might have gotten a little flour dust all over my apron, the counter, windowsill, floor, and sink. The dough was still very creamy looking, and I surmised I had spilled too much flour, so I added some more. Just a little; I didn’t want cookies that looked or tasted like rocks.

Plans A-F

I gave up on the flour and decided my still-wet dough was what it was and it wasn’t going to change. Before I tossed it, though, I would bake one pan and see how they turned out. The consistency was a bit like funnel cake batter at the fair, so I decided to try using a cookie press. Actually, it was a frosting thing, but I had to use what I had on hand.

In case you are wondering, I have made these biscochitos for at least 35 years, with the same recipe. The dough has NEVER looked like this, nor felt like this sticky mess.

These quarter-sized blobs didn’t taste bad, but it was more than a chore to dispense them onto the cookie sheet.

Plan B. I would roll them in balls and let them spread out in the oven. Too sticky, couldn’t get it off my hands.

Plan C was to drop dough by spoonful. Better, but very large!

Plan D was to use the frosting/cookie press again, this time without the tip on it, so I could get a large blob.

Plan E was when I adjusted the size of the blob coming out of the press tube thing.

Plan F was when I remembered I had these Frozen II cookie squashers that leave snowflake impressions on the cookie.

I eventually got a few dozen cookies that crumble in your hands if you aren’t careful, but they melt in your mouth and taste decent. They look more like sand dollars than snowflakes, though. Paul Hollywood would be disappointed that I couldn’t make them consistent in size, but hey! I was glad to not have to throw away the full batch. Luckily, I’m not trying to win Star Baker this week.

Lessons Learned

1. A red Kitchenaid isn’t necessarily better than any other mixer.

2. Even a stand mixer doesn’t have a programmable computer chip. While it does free up both hands, you still have to turn it off and on, adjust the speed, and pay attention.

3. Not having to hold a hand mixer is a joy. My wrist is still happy a day later.

3. A large glass bowl that is larger than you need and looks pretty doesn’t help the outcome. A smaller, stainless steel bowl would probably be just fine.

4. A $300-$400 stand mixer is not in my future. And even if my friend wanted to give me a sweet deal on this one, I’ll pass.

5. A cookie that looks wonky can still taste delicious.

6. When you have been watching too much Netflix and decide to stand for several hours, wear shoes! Your ankles and heels with thank you.

While I still have her here…

I now have 4 large muffins and 2 medium loaves of zucchini bread in my freezer, along with about 4 dozen bicochitos that are as large a drink coaster. I’ll give some away, and the rest I will take out a few at a time for the next month. I don’t want my taste buds to get bored, though, so I might try a batch of cranberry-pistachhio biscotti. I know for a fact I can handle good ol’ chocolate chip cookies with my hand mixer, but I am feeling challenged to find a redeemable quality to that cute red mixer on my counter.

What’s your story?

Have you had a surprising outcome when using a new appliance, or even a new recipe? Please share your story!

Homemoaner Woes

Tags

, ,

How many times have you moved in your life? Are you (or have you been) an apartment dweller, i.e., where someone else has to manage the maintenance of your place? How long have you lived in your current place?

Since I left my childhood home, which was the summer after I graduated high school, I have had 13 different addresses, with only transitional rental places. Otherwise, I have been the homeowner (well, me and the banks). The longest I have stayed in any one zip code was my hometown, which I left at age 18, although we moved around town a lot until I was 9 years old, and then we stayed in that house the longest – 9 years, but my mom stayed put for 35 years.

I do not remember any major home repairs by her, and I have always somehow avoided big ticket repairs. Of course, I have voluntarily taken on projects, like converting a garage to a family room; adding a deck, pergola, and fence; upgrading all the appliances; even replacing carpeting with hardwood floors.

But I know if I have to, I can, even if I don’t want to. You see, I have recovered from a big 500-year flood, so there’s that, I guess. I had to have the entire lower level of my house gutted and rebuilt in 1997. Now my number is up again. I have made my way to the head of the line, changing from proud Homeowner to sad Homemoaner. Here’s what happened.

A black, sort of fuzzy and bumpy-lumpy spot on my garage ceiling caught my eye.

I am certain I had not seen it before that moment; it was hard to miss, as it was nearly directly across and up from the stairs I was going down. We had been having a LOT of rain – several inches per day for a few days in a row – and three of my neighbors had had their roofs replaced in the past few months. My immediate thought was that I had a roof leak. Oh, gosh! I was thinking I had a $10,000+ spot on my ceiling. In fact, I recently had asked the neighbors’ roofer to give me an estimate to reshingle my 20 year old roof so I could be prepared whenever I had to shell out that kind of money, but had not yet received the estimate.

I contacted the roofer and told him of my black spot problem. He didn’t seem overly concerned; it took him almost a week to fit me into his schedule to come look at it. While waiting, I contacted another roofer also, who also couldn’t come for about a week. Both of them agreed, though, that I did NOT have a roof leak. Relief! I just saved $10,000!! Except they both agreed I had a problem in my bathroom, probably a drain issue, which turned out to be in the vicinity of the black spot. So maybe only one of those thousand$. I could manage.

I called a plumber, who took another week to get here. He took one look at the shower and said I did not have a drain problem. He thought I had a crack in my shower floor, which he could not fix. But he did cut a hole in the garage ceiling to remove the creepy black spot and confirm it was not the drain. And to tell me my bathroom subfloor was wet, and the black spot was mold due to wet insulation and sheetrock.

Once we removed some of the wet gunk, his assistant turned the shower on, and it rained inside my garage, enough that I needed a bucket to catch the water coming down. He said I needed a tile guy and maybe a contractor. At that point, I was wishing I only had a roof leak.

So I did what any solo homemoaner does. I called my son, who does custom shower work 2000 miles away, and my brother who has done extensive remodeling work on his own home and outbuildings. Pictures were zapped across the ‘net. My son said it definitely sounds like the shower pan. My brother said it sounded like a water pipe break between the shower faucet and shower head. Neither was good news.

Next up was plumber #2, who confirmed the first plumber’s assessment, but told me he couldn’t be sure until the tile shower floor was ripped up and maybe part of the wall.

He thought I likely had mold behind the tiles in my shower, too. He also said I did not need a tile guy; I needed a contractor AND a plumber. The contractor could do the demolition and the tile work, and the plumber would then do the pipe and drain work. Cha-ching! went my brain.

What would be your next step?

Mine was to cry. I’m getting good at expressing myself this way. Then I called one of my sisters, the one who just went through a year of rebuilding her home after a fire. We commiserated and talked about pumpkin spice everything and holiday decorating.

Once I was calm again, I moved on to surfing Pinterest for ideas for my dream spa-like bathroom. But then the financial reality creeped back in. So I cried some more, upset in part that I had to go through this myself. While the idea of swinging a sledgehammer and busting up tile has a certain appeal, carrying out debris in a 5-gallon bucket down a flight of stairs … not so much. I realized quickly, though, that I wasn’t going through this alone. I had my son, my siblings, friends, and the plumber and the contractor. Revived, I moved on.

Don’t count me out yet! My next stop was my homeowner’s insurance agent, who referred me to the company claims department, who needs the assessment and estimate from the plumber and the contractor to get this going. Uff-da! I ‘m getting better at waiting.

The good news is that I have another bathroom to use for the next couple of months, since the holidays are coming up and it is likely they can’t get me on their schedules until the beginning of the new year. Once they start, it should be done in less than 2 weeks, if the two of them can coordinate their respective work. That gives me time to define what I want.

The better news is that Pinterest really does have some fab ideas. Who knew grab bars for us safety-minded, mature folks could be artful as well as functional?

And that glass blocks are still in fashion? That tile workers aren’t limited to straight lines and grids?

I’m just getting started. The beauty in this (once I let myself go) is that I do not need to compromise on style or color, or anything. I can do it my way. Well, mine and the contractor’s way, I suppose. And the bank. Because it’s likely that even if the insurance pays out a claim on this, it won’t pay for upgrades and a little zip or zing I’m likely going to want.

I’m done with homemoaning for now…. mostly because I won’t even have the contractor estimate for a few more days probably. Sticker shock has no effect on me today. Which means I am going to start looking at websites other than Pinterest and price out my wish list. Back to homeowning pride.

Words for a New Widow

Tags

,

Today I learned that the husband of a neighbor died three days ago. In an instant, I was transported to the first days after Kevin died almost six years ago. Shirley came to see me. We hadn’t lived here a year yet, and I had a full-time job so hadn’t gotten to know many of the neighbors. I didn’t even recognize her but that didn’t stop her. She knew I was here alone and didn’t hesitate to take me under her wing. She came back the next day and asked what I needed, and I still wasn’t sure what her name was! Luckily, my sister had arrived and made her own introduction to help me out.

I prepared to take Kevin’s cremains to South Dakota for a memorial service, and she offered to help another neighbor take care of our dogs while I was gone. (It didn’t happen because Buddy ended up needing veterinary surgery care, but that’s another story.) Now, that’s generous.

When I came home about a week later, she called and insisted I go out to supper with her and her husband. I still remember it; we went to Uno for a burger. Uno is a restaurant I had not been to before, and now it’s not even there any longer.

A week after that, she just happened to have an extra ticket to a local big deal, a Christmas concert at her church. I didn’t really want to go but she talked me into it, and I am grateful she did. It was a kindness of the true holiday spirit, and it did uplift me.

She checked in on me from time to time after that. I would see either her or her husband walking their dogs, or at lunch, or the garden center, and just here and there. By now, I have recommended a hair stylist to her (she loved my cut but did not like the stylist or her cut), have borrowed her fondue pot, asked her advice about my consulting business, and given her rides to lunch. I know her much better now.

And yet, grief over the loss of a spouse — any grief, but especially this one — is so very personal that I am hesitant to intrude. Her children and grandchildren are arriving, and I don’t want to be in the way.

I have created my own sympathy card and will take it to her tomorrow. This is my message for her.

The Thing About Grief…

I was swept off my feet with the experience of losing someone special, too. But I don’t know how you feel about your loss or what your worries are.

I also had doubts about what I should do next, where I should be, how I was supposed to act or react. But I don’t know what kinds of doubts you have.

I felt the distress of wading into unfamiliar territory, the messiness of grief. But I don’t know what you find uncomfortable or awkward.

I can now recognize the joy that is mixed in with the sadness. Be kind to yourself, patient, and trust that you will have these kinds of discoveries, too. I’ll help you if you want me to.

I understand now that love does not end because he is gone, that grief does not last forever. You probably can’t see it yet. I’ll listen when you want to talk.

I am encouraged by knowing that every ending is followed by a new beginning. I believe you will grow from this experience. Yes, even at your age! I’ll help you celebrate when you are ready.

Nobody knows your grief except you. I can’t guess what you’re going through, and you couldn’t explain it all if you tried. That’s okay. You’re okay. You’ll do it right; there is no other way. That’s the thing about grief. 

–Solowingnow.com, Patricia Duggan

Rest in peace, Don. Rest, Shirley.

The Paper Tiger

Do you remember the guy from television commercials who used to advertise his Social Security Number publicly, on air, as his guarantee that whatever security system he was selling was hacker-proof and couldn’t be used by scammers? I wonder what ever happened to him. In this day and age, it’s hard to even guess.

I was reminded of him today because I found myself in need of an account number that apparently is classified as Super-Duper Top Secret to the billing clerk at a utility company. Of course, an “operator error” on my part caused the problem to start with, but when you hear what happened, I believe you, as a jury of my peers, will acquit me!

Last week I closed a checking account at a bank I have done business with for around 25 years. Seriously. New fees, questionable business practices, ongoing changing conditions and requirements. I finally said Enough. It was oddly easy; no effort at all to try and retain me as a customer. Gee, didn’t I feel special. I had to make an appointment first (thanks to Covid); I went in and said I wanted to close an account, she said Sign Here, and I got what money was left in the account in cash. I came home, cut up my debit card, and went online to remove my account.

Oops! A few days later I realized that I forgot to print out my bank statements, spending activity reports, or bill pay info. I tried to access them yesterday, but no luck. So this morning, I fortified myself with caffeine and dialed the Customer Service call center. Voila! It was easy-peasy to get reinstated…for the bank statements only. Unfortunately, I could not access the Bill Pay feature any longer since I didn’t have an account to associate it with. I love Bill Pay; no paper bills to get lost in the mail, no checks, envelopes, stamps, and counting days until credited to my account. But the new bank also has this feature, so no problemo.

Well, little problemo maybe. In order to set up the new system at the second bank, I have to add a new recipient. Including payment address and phone number of the business. And of course, the precious account number. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that info. I’ve been doing online banking for the entire 6-1/2 years I have lived in this house. Thanks to Bill Pay, the payee info is locked away in some secret bank data vault. I just basically auto-pay when a bill comes due, whether I’m home, camping, or wherever.

So I got an email yesterday that I had received two e-bills …via the Bill Pay at the bank I had just closed my account with. I cannot access those bills now. Hmmm. What to do. I guess I will have to contact those companies to get my info so I can set them up at the new bank.

I started with the electric company. Get the difficult one out of the way, and the rest will be easy. So I thought. Crystal was very helpful, eventually. Unfortunately, she cannot give me the account number since I am not on the account. And I cannot have the account switched over to my name, since he (my Mr.) is not available to give his permission. Even though I have paid the bill for 6 years after he died. I have to have a new account set up to get it into my name. New accounts do require a security deposit, by the way. Crystal did waive that if I agreed to pay the final bill for Mr. Duggan. So we got it all taken care of. I had all the info I needed now and was able to add the electric company as a Payee on the new Bill Pay system. One down.

On to the gas company, which should be easy since I do get an electronic bill each month outside the Bill Pay system. I typically send it to the Junk Folder because I know I am getting it through the bank where I will pay it anyway. I have received this bill for nearly seven years; the bills come to my email address, and are paid from my checking account. The bill, though, is in the name of Kevin Dugan (their misspelling). What?!?

So I said to myself, “Self, let’s fix this. Let’s get this changed to my name.” I went to the online profile, and I tried to update the account to add my name. It wouldn’t let me do that, but I could change the name of the account holder. Again, what?!? I tried that. I had to give a reason, and I had to choose from 4 options: Marriage, Divorce, Legal Name Change, and something else that I forget now but didn’t fit. So I chose marriage since death was not an option. Interestingly, the system updated to now add my name, also spelled incorrectly as Patrica Dugan, but it did not remove his name. This was not going well. So again I said, “Self, let’s just call Customer Service and do this right.”

Dimitri was trying very hard to be helpful, but I am gathering steam and being upset at the late Mr. Duggan for not putting me on the account initially. Once again, the resolution was that I had to establish a new account, plus set an appointment for a new meter reading, and agree to give up my first born child if I didn’t pay the final bill of $15.74, which is due in two days. Fortunately, he could take the payment over the phone for an additional fee of $2.95, and because I agreed to that, I again got the deposit for a new account waived.  (PS-unlike a window of time for 2-4 hours when they might show up to do the meter reading, these meter readers get all day. And I am supposed to be here waiting.) Uff-da.

Next up, the water and sewer bill. And again, I do not have my account number nor the old Payee info to get payment address or phone number. (Side question: why do I have to send my payment to Carol Stream, IL?) I don’t have enough energy left today to keep going. I will get a paper bill one of these days since, luckily, they recently changed from a quarterly to monthly billing system. Then there will be trash pickup, and the internet/cable company -never my best fun place to contact. So I will put that off for another day even though I wish I could just get it over with.

The good news is that the “new” bank has received all direct deposits as expected in September so the money is available if ever I have bills to pay. Oh, and as I have started to set up the new Payees online, I am keeping a paper list for the next time. Live and learn, I guess.

Should have had this, but I didn’t, and now I do (or will)

I shouldn’t be surprised that when we bought this house, Kevin set up all the utilities in his name only. But why I’m just figuring this out now, I don’t know. He did the same thing when he got his new truck, which I did know about. But at least I also wasn’t financially responsible for making payments on it. I can’t just voluntarily surrender my utilities like I did with the truck. They will cut my services off without a second thought if I don’t pay (except during COVID, but you get the gist).

It is frustrating to feel disenfranchised because of petty details like this. I can’t pretend to know what he was thinking, except maybe he wasn’t thinking at all. It is a remnant of the patriarchal society we grew up in. He never had to do this kind of thing, like I did when I got divorced back in 1991. He’s never had to change his name on his driver’s license or health insurance or Social Security when he got divorced from her or married to me either. I’m trying to let this go, but I’m kinda bugged about it in this moment.

I’ll bet the tv commercial guy helped the utility companies and banks set up their online systems. And the fact that I was efficient when I hit the “Save” button isn’t enough cause to say this is all my fault, is it? There must be a better way. Couldn’t the banks and utility companies just ask people when they set up an account if there is a (female/male/ spousal) joint occupant or owner or something?

Let me just close by suggesting you check your status before you have to. Get the passwords, account numbers, and other gory details now. Trust me, it could save you a few headaches six years down the road after you’ve joined the Solowingnow club.

Are bowl cuts back in fashion yet?

Tags

, ,

A funny thing happened on the way to … well, it sort of isn’t funny, at least not if you are the dog, but it is kind of funny if you’re me. Once you stop making it worse.

It continues to be hot and very humid here in Virginia, and my one-year-old Shih Tzu, Rocco, needs regular grooming to keep his hair matting under control and to survive the heat. I’ not just talking combing or brushing. I mean The Works! I am not willing to pay $80 to have him professionally groomed every month ever since I had a bad experience taking Harley and Sasha to a groomer. Three years ago and I still grit my teeth when I think of it. That woman complained that Sasha wouldn’t sit still for her, which I do not doubt, but I had told her when I took her in that she was a rescue and didn’t seem to like being touched on her feet or around her neck. “No problem. I can handle it. This is what I do.” Yep, sure. Long story short, she gave both of them uneven, chunky haircuts, and I went out and bought my own clippers because I was sure I could do better. And I did…I do. Mostly.

So it rained yesterday, a lot, meaning the ground was soft and wet. From one day to the next Rocco can develop mats, which neither he nor I are fans of trying to comb out. And when he is wet, it’s worse.

It’s raining again now

Out came the clippers and off came the top layer of hair. He shook in happiness! Then I got out the scissors to trim around his eyes and ears, but he was not having it. I gave up on that and moved on to his paws. They are as fuzzy as a pair of beloved winter slippers; he actually slides along the floors when he is in a hurry.

It’s necessary to trim the between the pads as well as the top of the paws. The regular hair clippers are too large to do small feet nicely, plus the cord tends to get in the way of trying to manipulate the feet of a dancing pup. Which means I also recently purchased a battery-operated, palm-sized clipper just for these small jobs.

And now Rocco has lost his little goatee because he just had to look down and sniff and smell and lick my hand to get at the new clippers when I was trying to shave the pads of his paws. Those little clippers are fast, and sharp! He kind of looks like he has lost his chin now, and the straggly neck hairs I couldn’t get earlier are still there because I’m now afraid to get too close to the rest of his head. That one ear doesn’t look too bad, does it?

This is another one of those times when the reality of Solowingnow hits home. Some things are just hard to do by yourself. Like hold a dog with four legs when you only have two arms and a buzzing chainsaw in your hand. Or sooth a scared puppy who doesn’t like the new noises. Or hold one paw to file down the long, pointy, black toe nails.

What I need is a tranquilizer gun, I think, but what I bought was one of those arm things to clip them to on the edge of the counter, to hold them in place theoretically and to keep them from plopping down. That was a waste of nearly a hundred dollars. I bought a couple of those sticky mats you swipe peanut butter on to distract a hungry dog (and yes, they are always hungry). That works great for a bath, but not when you need their head to stay upward, away from the counter and their feet. I hope it’s just that I haven’t found the right thing to stick them to yet, though. I’ve seen people who tape them to their own foreheads but I’m not there yet. Not sure how I could see the paw if a tongue was smearing my glasses.

I finally gave up on trying to clip his nails, which I can do okay usually with a Dremel sanding thing, but it’s those dew claws, the little nails hiding on the inside of the leg and that grow round and turn back in on themselves. Trust me, it’s just as easy to snarl or nick their hair as file off the nail tip.

So I figure if I’m gonna pay $10 for just a nail clipping, I might as well let her do all of the nails and not just those dews. Tonight it’s all for one and one for all! Three dogs get to go to Clip It Up at 5:45. I don’t think she’ll actually say anything about Rocco’s face and uneven trim, but she might remind me in case I forgot from last time that she only charges $60-80 for a full grooming, including ears, eyes, anal glands, and nails in addition to the regular spa bath. (And yes, it’s a different groomer from the crapulous haircut giver.)

Thank God I still have the sense to not cut my own hair. So far.

Does she, or doesn’t she?

Just do it, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Not!

Well, actually, that’s not what they said. What they said is this: Touchable Hold. (Not!) Temporary hair color. (Umm, how long is temporary??) Air Brush Tint. (Not exactly the look I got.) WASHES OUT WITH SHAMPOO. So not true. All of it, lies. Lies, lies, lies. It’s a darn good thing we are pandemically housebound and I can’t go anywhere and no one will see me. (Except you, if I decide to include that photo.)

I was born a blonde and stayed that way until I was around 4 years old.

I was about 3 years old.

By the time I started Kindergarden, my hair was dark brown,

I’m on the far left. Went dark in a hurry, and shorter too!

and it stayed that way for 30 years.

Once on a road trip, for entertainment my pre-teen kids tried to pluck the stray grays out of my head while I was driving.

It was really dark for a while. I’m on the right. 😉

The first time I colored my hair, I called my sister, the hair dresser one, in tears. “It’s so dark,” I cried. “What do I do?” “Wash it with Dawn soap,” she said. “Three or four times. It’ll be fine,” she said. It wasn’t. My hair absorbed that color and held on for dear life. My head hurt from the half bottle of Dawn I had scrubbed with, resulting in a Brillo texture. I should have remembered that. When I later complained to my other siblings, I was rewarded with a bottle of Roux Fanci-full Silver Fox hair tint from the Easter Bunny. I remember it very well. I wanted to cover the gray, but not too darkly, and they thought this was funny. I vowed to never color my hair again. And I didn’t,. Until the next time. Forget Miss Clairol; I went to a professional.

Keeping it brunette was a job in itself

Oh, the joys of multi-dimensional hair color. Streaks, frosts, low lights, and highlights. The cost went up incrementally, but pretty soon I couldn’t wait six or seven weeks for a touch up. Then I couldn’t wait four weeks. I was using a stupid wand thing to hide the skunk stripes on the sides of my head. If I tried to save money and use a store product myself, I looked like Morticia Adams. If I waited too long to get to the salon, I looked like Lily Munster. I gave up pedicures first; then manicures, until I finally went cold turkey and transitioned to a natural look.

Amazingly, it only took two months and a good haircut for me to become completely silver.

When I decided to let it go Au Naturel

Oh, to be sure, it went from pewter to silver to white, but that did take a few years. My dad had been white for about as long as I could remember, and I learned that his dad had been completely white by the time he was 29. It was when I met up with a cousin after a few years of seeing her that I felt validated; she was just a few months younger than I and also completely white.

White as can be!

A couple of years ago, though, my sister was visiting. I told her I was ready for a change. We went and bought some shade of brunette hair color so I could get low lights again. The result, though, was orange instead of brown. Not fiery red head or soft ginger. Orange. Yes. So we tried it again, thinking it would darken. Nope. More orange. So we washed and scrubbed. Then we went back to Sally Beauty Supply and got something to strip the color, and more product to return me to silver. Still not the desired result. Still light orange, sort of a strawberry blonde. I did not like it, but there was nothing to do except wait. Days, weeks. It took nearly a month for that tint to fade out. Why I didn’t remember that experience, I don’t know.

My next foray was color, as in purple. Just highlights here and there. I tried a comb-on gel that was supposed to be semi-permanent. And it washed right out. It was a lot of work – clean hair, poke tiny strands through the plastic scarf thing, comb on, let it set for 40 minutes, rinse. Except rinsing was really erasing. At least it didn’t turn me orange.

Finally, a gentle purple hair spray that worked.

Then I discovered purple hair spray, like the kind the kids use at Halloween. That worked great once I got the hang of controlling the nozzle and getting the color where I wanted. Only once did I have a purple ear; after that I learned how to use tissue and Vaseline to protect the skin where I didn’t want color. From purple I went to pink. I could decide from time to time if I wanted color or not, and it lasted only until my next shower in a day or two.

That product was discontinued at Sally. I bought 3 small cans on the clearance rack, and still have two of them two years later. I only use it very occasionally but it’s fun once in a while.

But I found a brown one also on that clearance table, and it was for root touch-ups. Brunette, it read. So I thought maybe I could give myself some depth or dimension from time to time by only spraying the root line a little. Somehow, I didn’t have the nerve to use it, until two days ago.

I used it very sparsely. I kinda liked the deeper root line. I was ready to take a shower and thought that just for kicks, I’d see how all my hair looked if I went brunette again. I was going to wash it out right away anyway. So I sprayed away. The roots were darker than the rest of the hair, though. I left it on a few minutes longer. Then I sprayed some more. It didn’t seem natural, and it sure wasn’t what I would call brunette. It was definitely in the ginger category on me. Of course, I’m not 30 or 40 or 50 anymore either. But I was going to wash it out anyway. Right away.

A funny thing happened though. As weird and sticky as the texture seemed to be, it had enough moisture in it to make my hair curl more than usual.

Arghh!!!!!!!! What have I done????????

It’s naturally curly when the humidity gets up there, but it’s really not curly-curly. It tames down to a softer curl, more wavy, once I get a brush in it. Touchable Hold, says the can. So not touchable! More like Sticky Goo Hold. I could hardly get my fingers into it, much less through it, and forget a brush.

It wasn’t bad, though, this light brown chestnut look. I mean, it did look colored, but there was enough of my own natural color in places that it looked like I had frosted my hair from back in the day. So I left it on for a while I made the bed and straightened up. For maybe 15 minutes I pretended I was young again, looking at myself every time I came within peeking distance of a mirror. Would I dare to start coloring again? Nah, probably not. It was a fantasy, and a pricey one at that, never mind the inability to get to a salon regularly given our pandemic restrictions.

Finally, I stepped into the shower. I poured out a liberal amount of Paul Mitchell Shampoo One (gentle cleansing, you know). My hair felt like it was glued in place. I made sure it was very wet, and tried again. I could barely get my fingers into the muck, and it hurt a little when I tried to lather up. I rinsed as best I could and told myself to get ready for the repeat. This time I used my Biolage Moisture Plus, and lots of it. A few more strands came loose. I used Biolage conditioner to try and soften things up, and that worked…about as well as trying to thin out setting cement with more water. I had a bar of Irish Spring soap, that was my third attempt. It was harsh, I know, but this girl was not going to get out of that shower until I could get my fingers through my hair. It seemed to have the intended effect, so I gooped another palmful of conditioner and let it do its magic while I buffed and polished the rest of me, complete with a sugar scrub, shaving my legs, and using the pumice on the heels of my feet. No more excuses; I was done.

I have needed glasses (or contact lenses) to correct my vision since I went into the 9th grade. I have pretty good near vision but need them for clarity for anything more than a few feet away. Like most people, though, I do not wear my glasses in the shower. Yet, I stepped out of the shower stall and looked across the room to the mirror.

I am blessed with a large dream bathroom. It is at least 8′ from my shower to the sink vanity where the mirror is. One glance and I had no doubt that my hair was still a shade of Not Silver, nor gray, nor even blonde. It was still some version of cafe au lait. I knew it was darker because it was wet but I also knew it wasn’t going to dry white either.

It’s been roughly 4 months since we’ve been homebound with Safer At Home rules due to the Covid-19 virus. I wear my mask when I go out, and my hairstyle includes bangs. I also wear the aforementioned glasses. I no longer take the time to “put on my face,” i.e., makeup. I will use a light coat of eye liner but no mascara, no foundation or blush, not even lipstick. My face has been free and my skin as natural as my hair. Except today. I am made up today, complete with a turquoise beaded necklace to draw attention away from my hair. Which is some version of dull anything. If I were a painter, I might call it a cross between raw umber and yellow ochre. And oddly, it is fairly well distributed. I guess the shampooing helped spread the joy around my crowning glory.

It is still not what I would call “touchable.” It pulled way too much for that when I tried to blow it dry. It has also gone from cute Brillo coils and curls to an SOS pad without the blue soap in it. I used Argan oil to help with the frizziness, but still needed the curling iron to tame it. Now I worry that the heat from the iron may have tattooed the color onto my hair strands. It probably can’t get much worse, but I was afraid to try the hair wax stuff in the orange jar for shine just in case it somehow did … get worse.

Ugh. Dull. Raw Umber/Yellow Ochre mix.

It rained last night so I don’t have to go out to water my plants. Trash day was yesterday. I went to the grocery store last week. My next Amazon delivery isn’t supposed to be until Friday. I have hung pillow cases on the mirrors in the bathrooms so I can avoid looking at myself. I will avoid any Zoom or other video calls for a few days and it will all come out in the wash. Eventually. Right? ‘Cuz I want to get back to this. Forever. And ever. Amen.

Just a couple of weeks ago

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

Tags

, ,

Are you one of those people who only think of the right thing to say, or at least something to say after the fact, when the conversation is over and you’ve either moved on to another topic or you’re retelling the story to yourself or others? Or maybe you stop yourself from saying what you were thinking because you took the High Road, or you knew it wasn’t a finished thought yet? Maybe you didn’t say something because you knew you couldn’t convince the other person so you let the moment go by.

A good Catholic upbringing, complete with schooling by nuns wearing the floor-length black tunic, scapular, and habit during my formative years, then a brief stint in the US Army, followed by a career in the apolitical, neutral judicial system conditioned me well to hold my tongue. I learned “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I learned that you can’t win a rational argument against an irrational person. I learned that one doesn’t always have all the facts or know what you know. And I learned (from The Gambler song) that sometimes you have to fight.

This week I chose to fight back, and it didn’t end all that well, unfortunately. I didn’t lose, but I did give up, for now, because I could see that the argument was going nowhere fast. I also didn’t feel great about the exchange; I was empowered for just a minute but that faded quickly. However, three days later, it still bugs the You-Know-What out of me, so I guess it is unfinished business I need to deal with … for my own sake, not his. Here’s my version of what happened; although I relied on a few screen shots, it’s likely there is some interpretation by me as to what was said or meant.

I believe in transparency and open channels of communication, especially in government, or in this case, a governing body. I have been told that I shouldn’t always give people so much information, but I think that people should get to choose what they do with the information, that my withholding it serves no purpose. So as the president of my homeowners’ association, I posted a status report regarding pool usage that I thought would be useful and welcomed by residents of my community.

There is some backstory that I won’t get into all the details of here, but it might help you to understand that we have a community swimming pool that was formerly used by both our HOA kids’ swim team and was also made available to a larger more metropolitan or community (area) competitive swim team. Our pool is typically open June, July and August, but because of the other swim team’s use, it was heated and available year round to them but not to our own families. That arrangement ended about three years ago.

It might also be useful for you to know that I am serving my third year of a three year term on the Board, all as president. And that we, like everyone else in the country, are suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that we are under restrictions put in place by the governor and our pool has not yet opened for the 2020 summer season a month after Memorial Day Weekend. We plan to open on the 4th of July, three days after we are allowed to do so, but still with some restrictions in place for physical distancing, sanitization, and screening for symptoms. (See how I tend to explain myself even when I don’t have to???)

So a few days ago I posted that the our neighborhood swim team was beginning practice, in compliance with the Governor’s orders and guidance on how to make that happen. And then I added that we hoped to open the pool to everyone else when the Governor authorized it, but that we would need volunteers to make this happen. So much for my good intentions.

Within about three minutes a man commented that we shouldn’t need volunteers, that that was what our HOA dues were for, that we should hire someone instead, that I had dropped the ball, that I was depriving families of the use of the pool which wasn’t fair since the swim team was going to use the pool. And then, after a barrage of questions, he said “this is a complete disgrace and you should be ashamed of how you handled this.”

Up until that last line, I was prepared to answer the questions included in his diatribe. But I guess my Better Angels were on break just then. When I read that last line, I couldn’t take it anymore. Never mind I had Covid Fatigue, I also had years of not saying what I think, of not defending myself publicly, of always trying to be politically correct and diplomatic. I finally reached a tipping point. I should be ashamed?!??

I started off by explaining as best I could how our HOA dues are among the lowest in town, and of his $38.83/month payment, only $5.69/month went toward pool expenses, how else the dues are prioritized in the budget, that the delay in opening was caused by the pandemic and not an arbitrary board decision, that we were doing the best we could. And then… then I got real. Here is exactly what I said next:

But if you still think your Board isn’t doing it’s job, then please show up at one of our meetings, or better yet, apply for a Board position. We will have 2 openings for 2021. It’s only a 3-year commitment for which you get paid $0 and get harassed by dissatisfied residents. PS-we have been asking for volunteers for several weeks already. Planning is hard to do when you have no one to carry out the job. Why don’t you pick up that ball that you think got dropped? My name is Pat Duggan. I am the president this year. If you want to talk more about who should be ashamed, give me a call.

I have been called intimidating in my professional career but it was rare that I was so direct and vocal. People may have felt intimidated, by my confidence and competence I presume, but that is different than my trying to be intimidating. (Well, there was the one time that a local newspaper quoted me without actually talking to me and I did give the publisher a piece of my mind, and when the state finance director tried to pull a fast one in a legislative hearing.) I tried to turn the other cheek, but it just didn’t work this time. My hand was shaking when I hit the Send button. Then I took a deep breath. I had a minute or so when I felt good about saying what I felt in the moment I felt like saying it. But then it just felt like a drag, a weight, a bad idea.

He immediately replied with more ugliness about my lack of leadership skills, suggesting I took kickbacks from the swim team, that I was incompetent, I was mismanaging the HOA funds, and more. I quickly realized I wasn’t dealing with a rational person. No answer would be good enough.

But his words hurt. I spend at least 10 hours a week, every week, often 15-20 hours a week, and sometimes I spend 40 hours a week, on HOA matters. We have made great progress in my three years. We’ve updated our Architectural Guidelines, we developed a new website, we updated our RV/Boat Storage Lot Rules and rates, we appointed a Grounds committee, we are updating our 5-year Capital Reserve Study (a/k/a depreciation, repair and replacement funding plan), and we are working with an arborist to develop a tree management plan. We changed property management companies, insurance agents, and lawyers. I am proud of what we have got going on, and for him to say those things about me was more personal than was called for or that I wanted to hear. I wasn’t looking for approval, but I sure as hell didn’t expect to be beaten up, spit on, and have salt poured on my wounds.

I wondered who this guy was and how to deal with him. He was now instigating others to jump on his bandwagon, and they did. Even two former Board presidents chimed in with questions they surely knew the answers to about the use of the pool by our local kids’ swim team, which I did not respond to. One then even went so far a day later as to specifically comment “Pat Duggan thanks for the non-reply.” How passive-aggressive is that? Another commented that she didn’t use the pool, but …. Instead of continuing to buy into their snarky theme, I restrained myself and did not respond at all. That might be worse; I don’t know.

Thanks to Google, I then found the original whiner. Get this – he isn’t even a homeowner in our community! For all his comments about what our dues should be used for, he doesn’t pay any. I think he is the son of a homeowner who might not even currently live here; this punk (see how I have slid down to his level with my own name calling?) may be a renter but I don’t know that for sure. I called him out on it, replying that his comments were inflammatory and since he was a non-dues-paying homeowner, they were also irrelevant. I asked him to take the discussion offline. When he shot back with more hostility, I exercised my right as an administrator of the page and deleted his comments entirely. That didn’t stop the others that were now picking up his bad habits. After three or four replies on my part to various commenters that the Board would have a Special Meeting in the next week, I stopped replying at all. I didn’t turn off commenting, as I think there may be good questions that can be answered at that meeting, but I’m no longer engaging in that nastiness.

I have had the chance to reflect on that exchange. I’ve been asking myself why I felt the need to defend myself, what buttons he pushed that sent me off toward that slippery slope, what I could have/should have said differently. I don’t have answers to those questions yet; I keep coming up with more questions, though.

So I sit here in limbo, with emotions like sensitivity, anger, sadness, disappointment, criticism, frustration, and resentment floating around. Those are heavy feelings. At the same time, I am grateful that I do not feel shame or embarrassment, as I am confident that I have done the right things, although I could have done them differently if not better.

I am also grateful I do not feel rejected, just misunderstood. I am one of those who tries to give the benefit of the doubt; in this instance, I am assuming this man just does not know what I know and he chose to strike at a target who happened to be me. He also does not have the experience I have in presenting a mature, reasoned argument. And he was hiding behind an online app where he was relatively safe, especially since he wasn’t even going to show up on my list of registered homeowners.

I still want this to be an inclusive community where members (residents) feel that their opinions count, that they willing to help further a sense of community, that they appreciate the bang-for-the-buck of low HOA dues, and that we all feel proud of.

What’s left is to ask myself: how does this get better? What do I see now that I didn’t see before? What will it feel like when everything is better than it is today? What will it take to allow me to embrace the necessary remaining work on the Board for the safety of our residents? What haven’t I discovered yet? I am trying to put myself back into a place of possibility, of feeling excited about the community I live in.

The good news is that I can share my thoughts, however scrambled they are, even though I no longer have Kevin as my sounding board. I do have three dogs who listen intently without talking back. I have a property manager who has more experience and other resources to guide me. And I have good friends who don’t live here, so they are not vested in the outcome of the situation except as it relates to me. Finally, of course, I have this blog, which serves as another public way for me to process and clarify my notions, perceptions, opinions, ideas, concerns, and beliefs. Hopefully, I will avoid any more “open mouth, insert foot” drama for both/all of us.

Becoming a better ancestor*

Tags

, , ,

Do you know how you show your stress? Here are some things I do when I get upset, anxious, stressed, or scared:

  1. Clean things. Like when I am done vacuuming and spot cleaning the carpet, I will clean the toaster oven with steel wool and a toothbrush, or the microwave with bleach and a scraper in case there are any food particles hiding. Or reorganizing the cabinet where I keep all the plasticware – bowls, lids, “free containers” from empty jam jars. This morning I thought about finishing the powerwashing of my deck, but I settled for picking dead leaves off my houseplants.
  2. Eat. My friend sent me a fabulous birthday gift this past week. It was fresh rhubarb! I made a rhubarb sticky pudding cake thing, and rhubarb sauce. I ate the last of it this morning. After breakfast. I also had a piece of banana chocoloate chip bread I took out of the freezer. And this afternoon I finished off a bag of Wiley Wallaby black licorice my brother sent me for my birthday.
  3. Cry. Last night I called my older son and talked to him while crying for about 25 minutes. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, not many guys like to talk long on the phone, especially to a crying woman, and very especially not his crying mother. I was on the way to my friend’s house to “spontaneously” spend the night. I talked to her and her husband for about an hour, during which time my daughter called to check on me. I cried some more. This morning I called one of my sisters, and we talked for 1-1/2 hours, during which I finally ran out of my current supply of tears.
  4. Shop. Retail therapy, yes I did. It’s a good thing that only a few stores are open due to the pandemic. I once broke up with someone and spent a few hundred dollars at a consignment shop buying clothes I never wore. Today I went to the Premium Outlet Mall about a mile from my house. I got hiking shoes, hiking socks (6 pair), three moisture-wicking tops, and a sweat-activated, cooling, lightweight, and wicking “Great For All Things Active” sports towel. You wet it down and wrap it around your neck to lower your temperature and cool down. I forgot to look for the Kula Cloth I mentioned in my last post; dang it!

I know these stress behaviors intimately because I have been in my fair share of stress-inducing situations before. It’s how I cope. Here are some examples of stressful, and really stressful, situations I have encountered.

  1. My daughter ran into a barbed-wire fence and cut her eyelid, in the dark, when we lived 17 miles out of town. My older son “clothes-lined” himself running under bleachers in the school gym. Same son broke his knee wiping out on a bicycle on a gravel road. The other son jumped off a swing and broke his wrist. Same son swung an axe while chopping firewood but missed the log and hit his foot instead. While we were camping, in another state. And there are more stories like those. All scary, no matter how many times they happen. I had to be strong, so crying was not an option. I kept an excess supply of Girl Scout Cookies in my freezer for years.
  2. My mother got a cancer diagnosis for the second time, and I was with her when the doctor told her that a month of radiation had no positive effect. I bought diamond earrings after she died. I was with my father when he got his cancer diagnosis and two-month life sentence. I took a cruise to Cuba. My sister got a breast cancer diagnosis, and I wasn’t there. I cried for 200 miles driving there, and 200 miles coming home. I am not sure which was worse – being there or being helpless and hundreds of miles away. And then there was the night my husband died, lying in bed next to me, suddenly and unexpectedly. A different kind of scary watching EMTs try to revive him and sitting in the waiting room, waiting. I lost 17 pounds in the next month, but then I found them and invited all their friends to come stay on my hips for a few years.
  3. There is another kind of scary, too: driving your truck, pulling a camper, on a dark Sunday night in the middle of Nowhere, Tennessee, and having the check engine light brighten up the dashboard. Or the Low Fuel light flash when you are in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. Or having the trailer brakes stop working when it’s raining out and it’s Sunday morning and you are seven states away from home with mountains in between where you are and where you are going. Or knowing you are going to scrape the side of your camper on that flatbed trailer you can’t swing wider around. I have the cleanest toaster in my camper; in fact, it is so clean, I hate to use it now!
  4. Having to confront your husband and tell him you know what he did, preparing for a fight, and having him calmly admit it. I cried for about three years after the divorce.
  5. Having the ladder fall out from under you while you are trying to descend the garage attic, and hanging on with your forearms on the ceiling flashing until you dropped to the concrete floor ten feet below. I was home alone, and the garage door was closed. I got the cutest peep-toe heels after that one.
  6. Watching the flood waters rise in your backyard, knowing the 8 sump pumps can’t keep up, and having to call the fire department to let them equalize the pressure on your walls by preemptively flooding your basement with clean water, and not knowing if the insurance company will cover the damages. I stripped the hallway wallpaper and painted my foyer and bathroom.

And there are more stories like that, too. I have had plenty of chances in my life to build my skills in resiliency and change management. Sometimes I think that I haven’t gotten out of the experience what I needed, so that is why I have had to “rinse and repeat” a few cycles.

But then this past weekend happened. George Floyd was killed by a cop, for all the world to see, in my home state of Minnesota, in the city of Minneapolis which I have happy memories of but which have now been irreparably tainted. Nothing is the same now. Not for George Floyd nor his family, not for residents of Minneapolis or Minnesota or any of the other 49 states. Certainly not for me. Can’t unring that bell, as the saying goes. Can’t stop seeing what I saw. It was sickening, but yet it was 1300 miles away. Until the long arm of the law (ha!) reached all the way to my small town in Virginia, where a civil protest yesterday afternoon was followed by whisperings last night of a potential riot at a mall a mile from my house. And more: the white neighborhoods within a mile of the mall. Yes, my neighborhood. This sh*% quickly got more real, fast.

I was blissfully unaware of this threat until one friend sent me a warning to stay inside. That was immediately followed by a neighbor asking me if I had heard anything. And then another person messaged me, in my capacity as president of my homeowners association, asking for confirmation and guidance. I started seeing all kinds of Facebook posts. Another friend confirmed that the fire department personnel and other First Responders were all called in to duty. I called my local cop shop to ask about it and was quickly given confirmation that the threats were credible and serious. But all they could tell me was that there was already an increased police presence and they would do all they could.

I asked myself exactly what was I feeling? My heart was pounding against my chest, my heart rate increased, my breathing was quickening, my hands were clammy, and I was sweating. I was full of fear. My resistance to this being surreal was short-lived; my sense of safety, of the confidence that I was just fine living alone, evaporated. I was anxious, I was confused about what to do, couldn’t think straight, was overwhelmed. I had this image of myself as a put-together, calm, responsive woman, and that went AWOL because I didn’t know what to do.

So I ran. I threw a nightgown,a toothbrush, and dog food into an overnight bag, and then called a friend who lives about 5 miles away. I asked if I could come over for the night but I don’t think I gave her a chance to say no. I locked the doors, pulled the shades, and turned on all the lights. I forgot to set the alarm system, but maybe that was a Freudian slip of some kind. Did I really want to know?? I was on my way in less than 10 minutes. Hey, Google, call Tino, I told my phone. He is my son, a voice of reason, and we had recently talked of the protests. He is much better informed about Antifa and other racial issues than I. And he has the unfortunate experience of being faculty who has faced fear borne of school shootings…including one not far from the college where he teaches. He is a deeply caring, deeply feeling, deeply expressive man.

I blubbered and told him I felt like a coward and a fraud. Here I been posting on Facebook, conveying my outrage. exclaiming that Black Lives Matter and expressing sympathy for George Floyd’s family and the other families who have lost loved ones to the senseless, shameful, dishonorable, deplorable way of the world. It’s been bad, gotten worse, til it all seemed out of control. I am generally an optimist, but I was hyper aware that I was alone and in a free fall. I have been giving myself a crash course, in a Cliff’s Notes kind of way, on white privilege, racism, radicalism, prejudice, fascism, terrorism, rioting, protesting. Trying to understand, wanting to understand, knowing I will not..cannot.. ever fully understand.

But I got a taste-testing opportunity last night. A taste of the fear, unlike any other fear I have ever known. And I did my damnedest to outrun it, to avoid it, to hide from it. I was ashamed, and that very shame further shamed me, because this whole mess wasn’t even about me, but I was making it about me. I was a failure, and I felt so guilty about that, too.

This is another situation where being solo really sucks. No one to hold my hand, brace me up, share my worry, massage my distress. The dogs can only do so much in the way of providing comfort. If something had happened, if some renegades did enter our neighborhood hell bent on damaging our properties, what could I do? I didn’t want to be by myself. In that short span of time, I was angry that I was on my own.

My neighbors were gathering on the street and talking about firepower and defense tactics. I was alarmed; could it get worse? I wanted no part of that – even though once upon a time I earned a Marksman’s badge for shooting an M15 weapon when I was in the Army. I don’t carry, and I don’t plan to. Or at least, I didn’t plan to…now I’m not so sure about anything.

My son was able to help me calm down. He said that not everyone can do everything, or needs to try. In what I was facing, it sounded like my best course of action was to ensure my safety. We all have our gifts, our ways of serving, our own part to play. Mine often involves writing, as does his. My seeking refuge didn’t mean I was weak, he said. If there was going to be real danger, then I needed to take care of myself, so I could my part when my turn came. As I drove out of the neighborhood, I saw two cop cars half a block from my house, and then a firetruck with lights flashing and sirens blaring when I got on the highway headed north. I was relieved to have somewhere to go and felt better about my decision.

I gave myself permission to consider his advice. He wasn’t trying to simply appease or mollify me. He was sincerely supportive. Really, what was I going to be able to do if I stayed home and there was a skirmish – or worse? Yes, my weapon of choice is words. Could I reasonably expect to go outside, call a meeting of the rioters, and offer to brainstorm how to resolve the conflict in 1-2 minute answers? That might be more appropriate as our governmental officials take charge of this moving target (okay, and for sure more than 1-2 minutes of Table Topics) , and maybe there would be a way I could help harness the raw energy into something more productive than the Tulsa Race Massacre (see? I learned about this, too). IF I was safe and sane.

I ate a raspberry crepe and had a cup of coffee with my friends. Of course, I didn’t sleep much last night. I checked my home security cameras remotely and canvassed Facebook for any hint of trouble happening. There was none. I came home about 6:30 this morning and walked my dogs around the neighborhood. I was thankful to be back home, thankful for another opportunity to experience my best self. I don’t know what tonight might hold, or tomorrow, or next week. But I am different already, I know that. I will never forget that feeling I had, those moments of feeling terrorized.

So now I wait to see what happens next. As hard as that is, I know millions of others have waited for nights, months, years, and decades. In vain. And if nothing, or if not enough, I will have to figure out how else to help effect change. While I am waiting, I will learn. And I will listen. With the goal, as author Layla Saad says, of becoming a better ancestor. Just those words, even without context, are inspiring to this grandma of five. Never has the concept of what kind of world they are inheriting had this level of meaning.

It’s interesting how I’ve come full circle to the ideal I have long ascribed to. It’s Kahlil Gibran’s credo that we should not seek to make our children like us, but we should seek to be like them. Because life goes forward, not backward. Think about that. I have this symbolized in a tattoo on my wrist: an arrow going forth from a stable bow. Usually you hear of kids calling their parents for advice or support or sympathy or guidance. If my own parents were alive, I don’t know that I would have called them. Instead, I did not hesitate to call my son; he is our future. I listened. When my daughter called a while later, I listened to her, too. I’m not feeble or frail; I was stunned, fragile, vulnerable in that moment. I was reminded that it takes a strong person to ask for help.

So I’m already relinquishing my self-bestowed title of Scaredy-Cat. I think I’ll keep this hat on of Listener a while longer. I’d bet we could all benefit from hearing what the younger generation, and the marginalized, the protesters, the angry, the hurting ones have to say. For a change, let’s be afraid for them, not of them. They must be incredibly tired of carrying these burdens. I know what one night did to me.

*The title of this post comes from the Book Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. She is a New York Times bestselling author, podcast host, and founder of the Good Ancestor Academy. Find her book here . For information about the Good Ancestor Academy and her personal leadership and anti-racism classes, go here. I have only just started to read her book but am impressed even at Chapter 1 that this book is going to help me learn how to show up better in the world.

6 Lessons for Hiking with Dogs

As I start writing this post it is May 15, 2020. Here is a bit of trivia for you. Seventy-eight years ago today, May 15, 1942, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp (WAAC) was created by Congress. A year later on July 3, 1943 the WAAC was converted to the Women’s Army Corp (WAC), and instead of just working with the Army, women became part of the Regular Army. From the beginning, all WAAC and WAC recruits had to participate in physical training (PT) and attain top physical and health standards. In 1976, 33 years later, the first perfect score on the PT test was awarded to a private in WAC basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. In 1978, the WAC was disbanded and absorbed into the Regular Army. I don’t know for sure, but maybe my record still stands.

Basic Physical Fitness Test

Well, that was a long time ago. Two husbands, three pregnancies, a divorce and widowhood, teenagers, grandchildren, and a climb up the proverbial career ladder of success long time ago. It’s no secret I am not in top physical shape any longer, but I have no regrets…and no secrets. I love DQ Peanut Buster Parfaits, rhubarb pie, margaritas, black licorice, chocolate cake, creme brulee… well, almost any dessert… and I love reading and watching movies and traveling cross country by car… pretty much all sedentary activities. All those years I was working, though, I managed to stay somewhat fit, walking around in heels, chasing a new job opportunity, schlepping boxes from one house to another, cheering at kids’ sports activities. You probably know what I mean. Occasionally, I would get on a kick and join a gym or ride a bicycle or geocache at a campground. Mostly, though, I didn’t. And then came a pandemic and plenty of nothing else to do but watch Netflix and Prime Video, right?

I saw Emilio Estevez’s movie The Way, and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Bill Bryson’s A Walk In the Woods. Provocative, fun… but then: I watched the British drama called Edie, a movie about an 80-something widow deciding it’s never to late to climb the mountain of her dreams. I was inspired! The very next day I contacted three of my nieces and asked about one of their favorite pasttimes, hiking. Then I started researching necessary gear (a.k.a. online browsing Eddie Bauer and L.L.Bean and Merrell, etc.) and asking about local trails that were open during the Stay-At-Home orders. I learned a lot, but interestingly, no one I talked to had much useful to say about hiking with dogs or other tidbits that would prove relevant to me. Movies can somehow pretend certain things don’t really happen. Well, let me tell you about my experiences over the past few weeks as I have discovered walking and hiking.

Here are 6 lessons that I have learned so far.

1. Collapsible water bowls for dogs are a good idea in theory. They can be squished into a back pocket of jeans and weigh almost nothing. In reality, though, they are a stupid idea. Dogs -even small 9 month old Shih-Tzu puppies- can easily flatten them in their eagerness to be refreshed, sacrificing all the valuable water you have lugged along. Lesson: don’t fill the bowl, and make them wait turns to drink. Hold the bowl if you can, or get a stainless steel one, drill a hole in it, and hang it on a carabiner clip.

2. It doesn’t matter if your dog went poop at home before you got in the car for the 2-minute drive to the sports complex. He will wait until you are far enough away from the car so you won’t want to go back and too far from a trash can to quickly dispose of a bag. He will need to do his thing, and do it now. Also, one bag is never enough. One per dog is not enough either. On average, 3 dogs will poop a total of 5 times on a 3-mile walk. Lesson: bring a bag to put the bags in until you reach the trash can at the end of the trail.

3. Going earlier is better than later. You won’t want to do it later, for one thing. And earlier is usually cooler than later. Less people are out earlier, and I mean less people with their dogs your dogs want to sniff and TALK to. Less people to see what you look like with a Covid-style hair length and ‘do, too. Just less people. This will be important when you get to Lesson #6. Lesson: go before you have time to find something else to do.

Let’s go!

4. Size matters. I’m talking leashes here. Too short and you could get your shoulder pulled out of the socket when there is good pee mail to sniff or a worm that needs eating. Too long and you could get your shoulder pulled out of the socket when there is someone else and her dog heading your way, or a squirrel nearby, or a tree that needs to be marked. Also, a long leash can get wrapped around your legs quicker than you can untangle the straps, which will stop you in your tracks or propel you forward in a hop at an alarming speed. A leash pulled against the back of your knees is as effective as doing squats in yoga class you didn’t know you could hold that long. Lesson: Like in The Three Bears, find the just right size that works for you. The dogs will adjust accordingly.

‘Nuff said.

5. Chafing is so no fun. This applies to thighs, as you already know from summer dresses, but I learned when riding motorcycle that you can be rubbed the wrong way by the hem of a shirt on your back above your belt line, or under your girls when the elastic band traps sweat (regardless of the size of your girls) and starts to itch. Regular baby powder isn’t effective, but Lady Anti-Monkey Butt anti friction powder does the job. Trust me on this. Whether you opt out of the bra or not, you are still going to sweat on a warm day walking a fair distance. Lesson: dust yourself before you leave home.

6. Go Girl and Kula Cloths are real things. Sorry to be indelicate here, but did you know girls can now stand up and pee, and carry their stylish pee rag (a.k.a. reusable toilet paper for #1) proudly displayed on their backpack? I haven’t tried either of them … yet … but after this morning, I am ready to jump off this fence and make a purchase. Here’s why.

I’m a mom. I know you go before you get in the car, whether you need to or not. So, I “went” at home before we left. I can hardly get upset at the dogs for having to go again right away if I haven’t set a good example, can I? And it’s the age of isolation and no open public bathrooms anyway. But I am 61.97 years old, with a 61.97 year old bladder. My new self-imposed “healthier me” rules includes one where I drink 8 glasses of water a day, plus one before my first cup of coffee in the morning. So I had had my first water and my first coffee before we went for our hike.

My FitBit previously told me it is .9 miles from where I park to the point where we will enter the trail today. With the dogs walking me (really, I don’t walk them), we manage about a 20-25 minute mile, less than 3 mph. It was a full 20 minute walk today on an asphalt path, across the road from a small lake, past a grasslands area, down a slight hill. It was already about 68* at 7:45 this morning. We had a pretty good pace going so we could get into the shade of the trees on the trail. I sorta had to go pee, but obviously there were no facilities, and I ignored that signal. The trail section we were taking is only about 1.75 miles, or around 35-40 minutes til we are back at the car.

We hiked along the trail, crossing not one but two little streams, by a wetlands area. The sound of trickling water is so peaceful, don’t you agree? Unless you have to pee. A bicyclist passed us. A jogger passed us. We were in about a mile when we came to another small lake, this one with a bench. We stopped for a break, and I gave the dogs some water but did not partake myself like I usually do. I rested and gazed and continued to ignore my somewhat fuller bladder. The bicyclist rode by again from the other direction. A woman with a German Shepherd walked by. We got back up to finish our walk. I figured we were a little more than halfway to the end of the trail.

We headed down a hill and around a bend to the left. Off to the right there was what looked like a path, and I thought about making a nature call. But I there were houses on that side of the woods not too far away. We kept walking, but the downward pressure of the hill put some pressure on me, if you know what I mean. The trees are many and tall but I didn’t think I could hide behind one and be discreet. Plus, I didn’t know how I could hold three leashes and a tree and not lose my balance in the position I would need to assume. I saw a few dangling branches overhead I thought I could hold on to, but there was still the issue of the dogs. And poison ivy to watch out for.

Scene of the crime

I hadn’t seen anyone in a while. And here was a perfect log to sit on and “rest” on the side of the trail! Did I dare? Would someone come along? Could I wait? I looked ahead where the trail went left, but the bend prevented me from seeing anyone, or them seeing me. Behind me the trail also had a curve after a short straight stretch. I decided I just had to do it. I hastily dropped my drawers, sat forward on the edge of the log, and tinkled. Ah, sweet relief! And of course, before I was done, I was alarmed by a muffled kind of rustling sound, a faint thud, like footsteps.

Oh No!

Like a drunk needing to sober up because the red lights are flashing, I was done and on my feet. I nearly did a face-plant as I tried to get my britches up and my shirt down to cover my unbuttoned fly. I would be hard to miss, or to forget — silver hair, bright pink shirt, 3 dogs. (Next time I’m wearing camo.) I picked up the leashes that I had previously secured under my foot, and as I straightened up, a man in blue shorts and a green windbreaker came into view up ahead, coming around the bend. I don’t know if I looked put together, but I didn’t even have time to worry about that. “Come on, dogs,” I said, before he could identify the wet spot where I had been standing. He passed us at a good clip; I was lucky to be upright when he got to us, given his power walking style. He was quickly out of sight again so I sneaked back and snapped a picture. Why do criminals do that…return to the scene of their crime? I don’t know. I’m not sure I even want to know now.

Anyway, we walked on, and around that same bend that guy had come from I could see the clearing and the end of the trail about 100 yards ahead. If I had waited just two or three or five more minutes, I could have changed my strategy. But wait; I still would have needed to water the dogs again at the car, dispose of doo-doo bags, hustle them into the car, and drive 2 miles home to unload the dogs and unlock the door and get to the loo. In time.

It’s just another thing that is tricky to finesse when you have to (or choose to) go it alone in this life. If a friend had been along, I would have had someone to hold the dogs and keep a lookout while I tended to my business. But I really think I’m gonna try the Go Girl, or the Shewee, or Freshette, or something. ‘Cuz I plan to keep on hiking. At my age, I have no delusions about now achieving a fitness level that will win any awards, but I admit I do feel better after even just a couple of weeks. It has become a meditation for me. I breathe deep when I enter the trail, taking in the smells of earth and pine and fresh air. I have nowhere else to be for the next hour, and I’m learning to Be In The Moment. Even sitting on a log with my pants scrunched down.

A tired dog is a happy mom!

So there you have it. Hiking 101 in 6 easy lessons!. If you have a story to tell about hiking, or walking, or notable nature calls of your own, I’d love to hear them! And if you’re really feeling generous, I have a birthday in a few days. You could gift me a kula cloth.