Homemoaner Woes

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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

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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?

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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…

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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*

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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.

Angels Among Us

(Or Another Adventure of an Earthling)

In my last post, I wrote about that all change is for the better, it’s all good, and what we go through as we go through change. Lest you think this must be a long process, let me assure you that you can go through the entire 6 stage cycle in a few minutes, especially if you call on your Angels for help! Let me tell you about my day yesterday and see if you agree.

Walking has been my exercise of choice during this pandemic. It’s good for mental as well as physical health. Our route changes daily to be more scenic, and last Saturday I upped my game to actually go for a hike. That meant trees instead of asphalt, some hills up and down instead of flat neighborhood sidewalks, and trees instead of open skies overhead. It also meant 3 miles instead of 1 or 2. It was all good, except that Bo, my almost-14 years old Beagle, who has a history sometimes of overdoing it and getting sore, to the point of limping and stopping climbing steps or jumping on the couch. Such was the case by Sunday afternoon, after another morning neighborhood walk of about 1-1/2 miles. By Monday morning (yesterday) I decided to give him a break; we would walk later in the day after I ran some errands, and we’d keep it limited. Little did I know he would get the entire day to rest up.

On Sunday I brought home Saffianna, my camper, to give her a long overdue bath. Who knows when we will be able to make our next trip but she still had dirt and smashed bugs on her from last fall. In less than a half hour, I had gone to the storage lot where she stays in our subdivision, hitched her up, and had her parked in my driveway. I use a wash-and-wax combo cleaner, and Saffi looked so good when I got done, I decided to give the truck a quick wash and shine her up, too. I thought about doing the car, but ran out of energy in the hot sun. As it happened, early on in the camper washing, I bent over to pick up the scrub brush off of the ground, and my cell phone slipped out of my pocket and hit the concrete. Now, my phone is dressed in a purple Otter protective case, and she did not shatter or even crack or get a ding. But she did get a headache apparently, and after a few flashes and shudders, she was done for. I could not revive her, and she is a model that does not have a removable battery. I tried everything, including asking the neighbor for help. So I was incommunicado for the rest of the day. I figured I would go on Monday and see about having her fixed or get a new one. I was too tired to try and put Saffianna back in her space at the lot, so I left her in the driveway overnight, and in fact, the dogs and I slept out there Sunday night, our first night of the camping season. Kevin used to say that sleeping in the driveway was akin to “kissing your sister,” and he refused to do it, but the dogs and I usually did the first night of every camping season. So we Kissed Our Sister Sunday.

In the morning we actually slept in until almost 8:30. Must have been that fresh air! I started some online research into new phones, and was shocked that the decent ones cost upwards of $500 and some are over $1000. So I hunted down Kevin’s old phone and put it on the charger, figuring that at least I could have my number transferred to his phone and I could use that until I could decide about a new one. Maybe I could find one cheaper on E-Bay or even at Wal-Mart rather than Verizon. It was about 11:30 when I was I was ready to go get the camper hitched up and returned to the lot.

I noticed that the truck seemed to hesitate a bit when I put it in gear to back up, but maybe I imagined it. Then when I put it in Drive, it hesitated again. It was like I was still in Neutral. But then it was fine, so we took off. The woman who lives on the corner of the roadway that goes to the storage lot, Till is her name, was out in her yard, and I stopped to talk with her a bit on my way in. Then I went on my way to the lot. The road is narrow but a pretty little lane, gravel and dirt, bending to the right past a tree on the edge and then through more trees, about a quarter mile or even less to a locked gate on a 12′ tall chain link fence that encloses the lot, which is surrounded by more trees. Lots of them. It’s one way in, and the same way out. I wish I had a picture to show you, but remember, I had no phone.

I pulled up to the gate, put the truck in Park, and jumped out to unlock and open the gates. I got back in, put the truck in Drive, and backed up. Wait! What?? WHOA!! I looked at the shifter to make sure I had put it in Drive, and it was. I put it in Park, and then back in Drive to make sure. We backed up a little more. No! This was not good. In case you don’t drive a vehicle, Drive is supposed to be forward. Same thing happened with 2d gear. There was no way I wanted to drive backwards out of that lane, around a curve, between trees. Backing up a trailer in a straight line when you have to is hard enough. And I had no reason to go backward. So I used the tried-and-true method that works on computers: I turned off the truck to reset it. Then I tried to restart it. But I guess the truck knew it was in Reverse instead of Park and would not start up. So there I sat. Thinking, focusing, replaying it in my mind. Trying not to cry…because crying is what I do when I am lost, helpless, alone, frustrated, scared, or just feel like it.

I had no phone to call anyone for help, and in these days of Contact lists on our phones, I don’t even know anyone’s phone number. Like, not anyone. And the only mechanics I know anyway are my brother in law and nephew in Minnesota, so that wasn’t going to help. Even if Kevin was alive, he wouldn’t have known what to do. I asked the angel him anyway to help me out of this jam.

I usually just grab my driver’s license to dash over to the RV Lot, but this time, intending to go shopping afterward, I had my purse and wallet with me. Which means I had my AAA card. And not just any old AAA plan, I pay the premium for AAA Plus RV. That’s what I would do! If I had a phone. So I walked back to Till’s house to see if she would let me borrow hers. A quick call and I was assured someone would be here in about 45 minutes. Great! I had a plan. Till offered to make me a salad and have lunch with her since it was now 1:00. We were barely washing out hands when a vehicle drove by toward the RV Lot. Could it be AAA already?? I hustled down the lane. Alas, it was Rob, another tenant of the Lot looking to access his trailer. Luckily, he had work to do on it first, so he wasn’t in a hurry to get in. Which he couldn’t do, since my disabled truck and trailer were blocking the only way in. I explained my situation, and he said not to worry. I was headed back toward Till’s house when she met me on the way. AAA had called back and someone was already on their way. Well, of course! I had Angel Kevin on duty!

It wasn’t but a few more minutes and a tow truck pulls up. I explain things to the driver, but he looks at me and asks how he is supposed to tow my truck if he can’t get to it. I told him I didn’t know, that he was my AAA “roadside assistance” solution and he should tell me the plan. I told him I had explained the situation when I called in. He asked me to start the truck, and when I told him I couldn’t, he got in himself and tried it. It still did not start, of course. He played with the shifter a bit and then got on the ground near the truck (but not under, which is significant) and took a quick look, said I probably had a linkage that broke, and to call back AAA and tell them I needed a mechanic, not a tow truck driver. I took a deep breath as he drove away. Breathe in for the count of four, hold it for the count of eight, breathe out to the count of seven. Repeat. And then back to Till’s house to use her phone again. I whispered to Kevin that I needed a Plan B, pronto.

I explained to AAA what the tow truck driver said, that I needed a mechanic. The woman told me they don’t do roadside work. I said I have the Plus package, and my card says Roadside Assistance right on it. She says that means they can bring gas to me, or jump my battery, or give me a tow, but that’s it. Breathe in to the count of four, hold it for the count of eight, breathe out to the count of seven. No thanks. But since I don’t have a phone of my own, could she please look up a number for me? She gave me the name of a possible mobile repair service, and as a backup, I asked her to give me the number for the automotive service place I take my motorcycle and the truck for annual state inspections. I have not had to have service on any of my vehicles since Kevin has died; he always made those arrangements when needed. I decided to try “my” place first. Luckily; the mobile repair place is no longer mobile anyway.

Once again, I explained the situation, but first I had to compose myself. I was feeling disstressed, pressure in my chest, an increased heart rate. I told myself to observe” what was going on, inside me but the overall matter of my situation. Just be factual. Describe what happened, what you tried. Observe, and report. That helped me calm down a little. They said this couldn’t be fixed roadside, if this really was the problem, and the man I was speaking to, Brock, offered to call around for me to some of his “sources,” and see if he could come up with a solution. My usual reply to an offer like that would be, “I don’t want to put you out,” meaning it seems like quite an imposition to ask him to do that for me. I’m not very good at accepting help. At least I didn’t use to be. But I have learned that when people offer to help, they want to help, so there is no harm in letting them help. I accepted this angel’s offer. By now, Till has told me to keep the phone as long as I need it , gave me the PIN# in case it locked up, and even brought me a portable charging unit in case it got low on battery. Another angel. Deep breaths.

My next call was to the RV Lot Captain to let him know in case he got calls that it was me blocking the lot. I got his number from Brock, who graciously looked it up for me. Luckily, Raymond was on his way to the dentist but wasn’t there yet so he could talk to me. He offered to park my camper in its spot if we could figure out how to get the truck out of the way. Our call was interrupted by Brock calling back to say that he had a tow truck on the way, and the driver, Aaron, would likely be able to help me out, that he had been told the situation. As I waited for Aaron, Christine, Raymond’s wife, now showed up with a bottle of water for me and to offer some moral support. Rob, though, had already brought me one. What great people (angels!) in my neighborhood!

It’s now a bit after 2:00, and Aaron shows up. Rob has left to go get a lug nut for his spare tire but said he’d be back in less than an hour, and if I need him to move my camper once the truck was dealt with, he, too, could park it for me. Aaron, though, is another angel. He checks out the shifter, says my linkage is shot, and crawls under the truck. Then he tells me to start the truck but to keep my foot on the brake, since he wants to go home that night. The truck starts right up. He had manually put it in Park, and now puts it in Drive. Telling me to still keep my foot on the brake, he crawls out from under the truck and directs me to drive forward to wherever I usually go and to position the camper for backing up. Voila! The truck goes forward! I get to my back-up spot, Aaron crawls back under the truck and maneuvers the gear into Reverse. Now, while I am holding the brake down and have the emergency brake on, Aaron climbs over me into the driver’s seat and I slide out. My record for backing Saffi up into her assigned spot between two other units is 38 tries, going forward and backward, and that is a LOT of crawling under the truck for Aaron, so he is going to back the camper up for me. Which he does in one try. I unhitch the camper, put down the tongue, disconnect the battery, and get back in the truck. Aaron now crawls under the truck one last time, puts the truck in Drive again, and tells me I can drive forward. In fact, I am going to drive it straight to American Pride Automotive, and he will follow me. First, though, I have to stop at Till’s to return her phone. Aaron will shut and lock the gate so I don’t have to get into Park and Drive again.

Till hears me coming and comes to greet me at the lane. I tell her I am off to American Pride Automotive down the road, and she offers to follow me and bring me back home. I am almost in tears again at everyone’s generosity. I accept, and our little parade takes off. When I get to American Pride and walk into the office (yes, I have my mask on), Brock – whom I have never met – welcomes me with “Glad you made it!” I told him I’d give him a hug if I could, and he says he’ll take a rain check. Aaron says he will just add his bill to the American Pride one once they fix the truck. Everyone is so understanding that I want to cry again. I thank them, and get into Till’s car to return home.

The day is not over. Luckily (notice how lucky I am?!? All those angels are hard at work, but we’re not done yet), I have another vehicle (actually two if you count the motorcycle). I go into the house, let the dogs out and round them up again, and grab Kevin’s old phone that has charged up sufficiently by now that it turns on. I head out again, this time to Verizon. My old phone is not salvageable, and Kev’s old phone turns out to be an AT&T phone, not serviceable on Verizon’s network. Chris patiently shows me a few options, and $400 later, not including the protective screen sheet and case or the activation fee and cost to transfer my Contact list, I am on my way with a new phone. I am exhausted and not in the mood to do battle with any more the germs at a grocery store. Anything I need will wait another day.

I quickly call my friend Dee to let her know I am back on the grid again with a new phone. It is about 5:00 now and I tell her I think I am going to get curbside take-out Mexican and put my feet up. I then shoot off a text to my kids and my siblings to let them know I have a phone again, having yesterday Facebooked them to let them know I couldn’t get calls. My phone rang in my hand, a startling sound, my first call on the new phone (with an odd ring tone I will have to change). It is another angel in the form of my friend and neighbor Sandy.

Sandy is a gem. We share an interest in writing, play Bunco in the same group, go to lunch monthly with other women in the neighborhood. She is the one I call if I am out of an ingredient and in the middle of baking something. When I need to borrow a blender, she adds in margarita glasses. When I have fondue on game night, she brings extra forks to make sure there are enough. Her son Brandon helps me out with the dogs when I want to take off for a day, and her grandson Gentry loves to love on my dogs when he visits her. So I happily answer Sandy’s call. Here is the entire conversation:

Sandy: Have you eaten supper yet?

Me: Nope.

Sandy: Are you hungry?

Me: Yes.

Sandy: Are you home?

Me: Yes.

Sandy: Good. I am on my way. Be there in 5. I have something for me and you’re going to like it.

Five minutes later, Sandy pulls into my driveway. I tell her what an angel she is, and she asks if I’ve had a bad day. I think to myself You have no idea, but actually, it wasn’t all that bad; it was just exhausting. She said, “I wish I could give you a hug instead of you having to hug a tree. Here.” And she hands me a red gift bag, in which is a pint of homemade chicken salad Brandon has made, with craisins and pecans, and another bowl that contains chicken wings in Brandon’s special homemade lightly spicy barbeque sauce. Yummy!

Sandy with Brandon’s leftovers for me

I wondered how in the world Dee could have gotten word to Sandy so fast for her to bring this, but of course, it wasn’t Dee at all. I think Kevin was still on the job. Sandy and I visited for a few minutes, and she left. I enjoyed the tasty bounty. That boy can cook, I tell you.

I put on Netflix and the cuddled with the dogs for a while. We were all in bed by around 9:00, thankful that after all the day’s drama, no one got hurt, not even by harsh words or sarcastic retorts, which I am too good at sometimes. I was grateful for everyone who crossed my path that day, for the angels that helped me through all 6 stages of the change cycle in record speed. Let’s review, shall we?

Stage 1, Loss. I lost my ability to drive my truck and my independence without my phone. I felt helpless and did not know what to do. Stage 2, Doubt. I resented AAA lack of roadside service, although that driver did identify that my shifter was my problem. I was skeptical that this would be resolved easily or quickly or cheaply, or that I could get the right help without being in the way (literally) for others. Stage 3: Discomfort. I surely felt like I was the one who was stuck in neutral, anxious about what this would mean in terms of ability to use (and trust) the truck mechanically. Stage 4: Discovery. I anticipated the help from the second tow truck driver, and looked forward to a resolution. I had come up with a plan, and the plan was working. Stage 5: Understanding. Aaron confirmed the shifter linkage was broken, and I gained confidence as he manually put the truck into gear. I was able to drive forward and trusted the truck would get me to the repair shop. I was ready to take on the cell phone replacement task. Stage 6: Integration. I am satisfied that the truck is where it needs to be, and grateful that having this happen here at home saved me from being somewhere along I-40 on my way to see my kids or in a remote campground. And I have a new working cell phone. I was generous with my appreciation for all the angels who showed up to help. And now I am ready for the next “change,” which is likely to be the hit to my checkbook when I get the bill, but it’s only money.

An interesting bit of background. Last fall our our Thelma & Louise trip, both Dee and I had a little trouble with the shifter. We thought it was because of where I had placed the trash sack, such that we couldn’t really see if we were in Drive or not if the truck didn’t engage in gear. That has been an ongoing thing I didn’t pay enough attention to. Also, my cell phone had been slowly fading away anyway. It was needing to be charged up sometimes twice a day, even when it had a full charge in the morning. Response time was also slow when trying to access messages. More warning signs that I ignored.

But, in fact, it’s all good! I got my stimulus check recently, so I will have the means to pay this piper. I was able to accept the generosity of my friends and even to strengthen my connection to them and to my community. An expression I learned recently is amor fati. It’s a Latin phrase that means a love of fate. It’s a mindset that you take on for making the best out of anything that happens. It’s my new favorite motto, and it has proven to be a concept that I find is very useful. It’s not just a stoicism, it’s a productive point of view. I have one tattoo, and I’ve said I’d never get a second one. But I’m thinking now… maybe ….

It would go with the one I already have, which is based on Gibran’s philosophy of life going forward, which you can read about in a previous post.

All in all, I’d say yesterday turned out to be a spectacular day. I got to meet so many angels and to really experience me being me, and a better version of me. I think I handled it well, all things considered.

All Change is for the Better

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You’ll see if you look at my banner on this site: Nothing we do can change the past, but everything we do changes the future. Tru dat! We are definitely in the midst of a change cycle with this pandemic. I keep hearing that people are anxious to return to “normal,” and all I can think is that I don’t want to go back. As hard as it is, we can only go forward.

The Change Cycle

The Change Cycle is a real thing. It is a 6-stage model for responding to changes that go on all the time. For each stage, the model identifies probable feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It looks like this.

I could spend all day explaining it to you, but I really want to do is give you a quickie example of how I am experiencing the current Covid-19 pandemic in relation to this model. In future posts, I will relate how specific activities (such as The Art of Napping and watching movies with Closed Captions) or my daily meal times have been affected (beer bread, anyone?). For now, it is my aim that if you are struggling with all the changes in your life due to this virus, you will find some hope in support of the idea that there can be (and definitely is) a benefit to us in these trying times. And that there is a way forward.

As you can see, the cycle starts with the event of the loss (our normal routines, a new virus), that leads us into doubt (about the sudden impact, the resistance to the change), which shows up as discomfort (too much to deal with, too many unknowns), until we start discovering it’s not forever (we’re going to reopen the restaurants and hair salons), which brings about a new level of understanding and acceptance of the situation (we seek opportunities and get busy again), so that we can integrate the changes and create a new normal (work and leisure reprioritized).

The kind of change isn’t important. Sure, some changes hurt more than others. Some changes require us to spend more time in some stages than others. Even changes that we court and wish for still end up having up move through these stages but likely on a different time table or with differing levels of anxiety, for example. The arrival of a baby and a loss of a job are completely different changes, but both are changes nonetheless.

No change is unimportant. But all change ends up being for good. It can be incredibly difficult and mystifying to figure out how some changes are beneficial; many times we wish we could go back in time and have a Do Over. Science, psychology, and experience all show, though, that ultimately, we grow or evolve in our thinking and our being when we go through a change of any kind. That’s a point of view that takes some getting used to; it really is a mindset.

That can be a big pill to swallow, I know. I have had some painful things happen in my life, things I’d rather forget or pretend never happened. This isn’t going to be a litany of the uphill climb I’ve had – I know I’m not the only one who has ever gone through some of what I’ve gone through. But ultimately – every single time – I have changed. I respond to the same or similar new things differently, I think differently, I act differently. Because I learned a different way to a better outcome. I can’t un-know something, or as a friend of mine likes to say, I can’t unring that bell. So I am who I am now because of all those changes. And so are you changed because of what has happened in your life.

Even a change like death. As you know, my husband died a bit over 5 years ago. Can I say it was “all good?” That seems harsh, insensitive, unloving. And I surely did grieve, get angry, get depressed, and want by old dreams back. Then. But with death, there is no going back. It’s not just about looking for a silver lining. Dealing with change is about actively processing what we are going through, and accepting that forward movement is preferable to getting stuck and staying down for the count. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel bad, or that we don’t hate what has happened, or that we are glad something happened. It means we have moved on.

Stage 1, Loss

With the pandemic, I admit I got scared. I cried and felt fearful. I live alone, and I worried that if I got sick, no one would know; those who might help (kids, sibs) were too far away; what would happen to my dogs; I don’t have a bedroom on my first floor and how can I climb stairs if I have trouble breathing? Yeah, I felt real fear, and it had a tight grip. This was Stage 1, Loss. This was the thing that started it all. I was behind the Eight Ball and not liking it at all.

Stage 2, Doubt

I started to resent those who were supposed to give us hope, calm us down, provide us with information and support. Leadership failed me. I became skeptical of everything I heard. I felt angry. I doubted there was a light at the end of the tunnel, so I decided to stay the hell away from the tunnel at all. I rejected the ideas of the so-called experts. Classic Stage 2, doubting everything. Asking WHY????

Stage 3, Discomfort

But that was not sustainable for me. I am normally an optimistic person, and my professional experience told me that there was more to the story than we were being told, more options than we were being given. I was now at Stage 3, full of questions, spending a lot of time doing nothing, going in circles, looking for an easy way out. I was uncomfortable with the way things were and could not accept the status quo. I was anxious but saw no clear way out. If that is not your nature, you still can be confused, anxious, and unable to get much done.

Danger Zone!

It is at this point I could have resigned myself to being a couch potato, waiting for a savior to make it all go away, letting negativity take over and turning possibilities into poisons. That is the danger zone. I am aware that engaging in all the drama sucks energy right out, so I pushed through to get away from it. I stopped watching the news several times a day and started watching romantic happy-ending Hallmark movies. I cut down my Facebook feed to weed out the divisive posts, and I took to weeding my garden instead. My diet of chewy licorice, jelly beans, and chocolate became crunchy green salad, turkey for several days on end, and experimental biscotti and beer bread. Of course, you do you.

Stage 4, Discovery

I wanted Stage 4, that of discovery. I was sick and tired of being sick (disgusted) and tired (same old-same old). I got resourceful, sewing my own masks, moving around some plants in the yard, and attending an e-treat (online retreat) based on a book When Everything Changes, Change Everything. I caught myself looking forward to ways I could outsmart the system, or at least create a healthier life on my own so I wouldn’t have to rely on the health care system and politicians to save me. I wasn’t going to wait for what I thought I “deserved,” I was going after what I wanted.

Stage 5, Understanding

With the generous help of Verizon and their free gigs of data for my cell phone, I have initiated more contact with long-distance friends and family. More than just talking, now I can video-chat and see them. It’s not the same as being at same table, but it is kinda cool to do our own Brady Bunch reunion. I got more active, as in walking the dogs twice a day instead of once, and for twice the distance each time. I haven’t lost any weight (see licorice comment above), but I do think my belly jiggle has toned down. I gained confidence that I was over the hump of heavy fear, evidenced by my successes at the oven and in the garden, as Spring finally arrived. Being productive made me recognize my prior unproductivity, and I was able to understand that no one really knew how to deal with this pandemic and they were probably doing the best they could, given the many obstacles in their way. I could understand that while some jobs or industries were declared essential or non-essential, we as individuals are all essential to humanity. An unemployed neighbor is still essential to my daily spirit, waving as I walk by. A closed business is essential to Mother Earth by reducing the number of people on the road, resulting in an essential cleansing of the air. Yes, Stage 5 is where I am. I am understanding the situation and responding with a more holistic approach.

Stage 6, Integration

The integration of all this evolution in my feelings, thoughts, and actions is yet to come. That’s Stage 6. With some businesses starting to re-open and people going back to work outside of their homes, things will change slightly. I’ve been enjoying the peace and quiet of my neighborhood streets and seeing my neighbors throughout the day. People will be on a time clock or trying to fit in more errands in a day, so they’ll be picking up the pace. I will do my best to support that, because the economic impact on my retirement accounts has pinched me some, too, and because I know some people are needing the social stimulation and ability to contribute as much as to bring in a paycheck. That doesn’t mean that I have to hustle, or fill my schedule, or let the weeds take over my yard. I know I have been able to push my own reset button, to reprioritize how I spend my time, and to more fully appreciate my slice of heaven on Earth. If I can continue that lifestyle, I will have achieved integration. The cycle is complete.

If I declare that these are all good things, for me, then I have to say that the pandemic did for me what no amount of reading prophets and gurus and experts has been able to do. All that theory I have been consuming has finally been applied in real time by me, in my world. I don’t want to go back to whatever I thought was normal a month ago. I want to stay here in New Normal, at least for a while, until the next change event comes along and propels me into another cycle. Until then, I am making plans for a slower re-entry to the local life, wishing for some kind of camper travel this summer, and expecting to continue building my inner strength, solidifying my ideal life and letting go of some old expectations.

It’s because I have gone through so many changes (big ones, trust me) that I have developed some quicker response times to some changes. I move through the 6 stages quickly for some changes due to my collection of experiences and the resilience I have cultivated.

As its been said, all beginnings start with an ending of something else.

And you??

How has this pandemic affected you? What Stage are you in? What do you do differently from a month ago? What will you do differently a month from now? What do you hope still happens? What is next for you? I’d really like to have this conversation with you, so feel free to comment below…or private message me…or call. I’ve lots of time.