Purple Hair

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Dateline: Santa Fe,  July 2018, on one of the best summer vacations this girl has ever had. Not counting Italy. But that was fall, not summer. Anyway….

The Night at the Plaza

The music was heard two blocks away as we walked toward the Plaza, so that gives you an idea of the volume once we got closer. We found a small patch of unoccupied ground, unfolded our lawn chairs, and sat down. The flyer classified the sound as Americana/Indie, and the people dancing were enjoying it as much as those of us who were just people-watching. The relentless heat had finally abated…or was it the ice cream the cooled us down? New Mexico’s Largest Free Music Festival seemed to draw a mostly local crowd enjoying a local band on an outdoor stage in a park. I was glad we came.plaza

It was plenty loud, so my friends Patti, Josie, and Evelyn and I were not trying to make conversation but were communicating with our own kind of language: raised eyebrows, smiles, thumbs up or down, nods, and turns of the head as one character or another caught our attention. Like the chicken on a leash who had  her toenails painted to match her human’s toenails. Or the lady in the shiny pink stiletto heels that were sinking at every step, making her stumble as walked across the grass. Or the kid climbing the tree next to the sign that read “Do Not Climb The Tree.”

Or the blonde woman in the long-sleeved black sweater (oh yes, and did I mention how warm it was?) and khaki pants. She walked across the Plaza directly to where I was sitting; I had no doubt that I was her target.  I had no idea who she was or if I might recognize her from when I lived there a lifetime ago. Yeah… no clue.

“Do you … (something) …  ?” she asked me.

Eyebrows up in response. “Excuse me?” I half shouted.

“Do you live here?” she repeated. “I hope so.” (Wait-what?? Did I hear that right?)SFe Patti Evelyn

“No, sorry, I don’t.  But can we help you with something?” I thought if I didn’t know where whatever she wanted was, my friends who were all locals could help.

How to Get Perspective, Maybe

Her next statement took me by surprise. “I hoped you did, because my husband I are thinking of moving here, and with your purple hair – which I love, by the way – I thought you must not be a conservative and we are trying to get away from them and so if you lived here, there must be other liberals here, too, and we might like it here.”

Wow. It was a loaded statement, to be sure; I gave her points for taking a risk. My next thought was, I don’t really have purple hair. I have a few streaks of colored hairspray, which happened to be pink that day, but … whatever. I wondered if she had too much to drink. I looked around for the invisible husband and caught Patti’s questioning look. I shrugged just enough that my new friend saw it.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You probably think I’m weird, and I’m not, but really, you just gave me so much hope.” She actually looked let down.

Hope? From (not) purple hair?!? I tried to encourage her with a smile, and she responded in kind.

In the next few minutes, she told me that she is 65 and her husband is 75. She just recently had a birthday and realized that if she divided her life into 5 year blocks, she has lived 13 blocks of time, and given her education, self-care, access to medical care, and current lifestyle, she expects she will live another 3 blocks, but her husband may only have 1 block of time left. So it’s important that they make some decisions before time runs out. Whew! And there was more.

They live in Arizona, have sold their places in Mexico and on Cape Cod, and are looking for the last place they will live. She is concerned that Scottsdale has become too conservative and she is fearful she no longer belongs there. (Ooh, belonging. I can relate!) She likes Santa Fe but wants to make sure that there are people like her here because she will undoubtedly end up alone when her husband dies. So he told her to go talk to some locals and find out what it was really like behind the glossy pages of the magazines. My purple (or pink) hair caught her attention.

I can’t fault the logic of talking to someone who might have a different perspective on the quality of life to be had there, but to pick someone in a park listening to a band because she has color in her hair, which must make her a liberal, seemed somewhat random (and maybe a bit desperate?)  to me. I took her at her word, though, and engaged in the conversation. She seemed harmless enough. I’m glad I did; she turned out to be a fun person to talk with, albeit a little intense.

It wasn’t just about her. She again expressed genuine fear about not belonging wherever she was. I couldn’t be sure but I had the feeling she thought she might find herself alone sooner rather than later in regards to the husband. I shared that I was solowingnow and had been for over 3 years, and that I had moved around some in my career so I could relate to the right fit of a particular community.  I told her that I just recently had a conversation of a similar vein with my daughter about my choice to stay living in Virginia after Kevin died. Renae was concerned that I was isolating myself and not being connected enough to her or my other kids and their families.

Belonging

To the contrary, I stayed in part because I did feel like I was accepted there and belonged. My neighbors had made sure to include me, to seek me out, to check on me.  In fact, I felt/feel more connected there in the short time I had been there than I had in the last five years I had lived in South Dakota. Plus, I needed time to just be me for once; not be someone’s mother or wife or any anything. To figure out who I am now and what I want out of the rest of my life. She gave me a hug and said she just knew I was the right person for her to talk with.

An interesting side note: I had also just started reading Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. I highly recommend it. (Update: check her out on Netflix also.) Brown is a social scientist who has researched and written on experiences that bring meaning to our lives and how we need to belong to ourselves even when we want to be part of something else.  She says early on in this book that “you will always belong anywhere you show up as yourself and talk about yourself and your work in a real way.” I recommended the book to her. And that night, I felt like I belonged there and that talking with this woman was a very natural thing to do. Of course, I didn’t have to defend myself to her; she was looking for a like-minded person, and she found one. Thanks to my purple (pink) hair, apparently.

We carried on our conversation above the music and somehow we heard each other. Probably because we were both curious about the other and were really listening hard. I felt like I made a difference to her, and that felt really good to me. I remembered also the good times in Santa Fe, not the disillusionment that ultimately led to my leaving…23 years ago. I found myself thinking that if I moved back here and if she moved here, we could be friends. Her name is Jean Marie, and maybe someday I’ll see her on the Plaza again. I’ll have to put more purple (or pink, as it really was last night) in my hair so she’ll recognize me.

Reflecting on Who I Am .. Was … Am …

I hadn’t thought much about the fact that my hair could say so much about me.  Then again, I suppose the natural silver color alone is a statement about me; the purple color is just another dimension. I’m sure I send all kinds of messages by the way I dress, the people I hang with, the tattoo on my wrist, the smiles I give, the venues I show up at; why not the color of my hair? or skin? or height, or weight, or the accent in my voice? I wonder what she told her husband about me that I didn’t tell her. I think I had a tendency to dismiss all those factoids most of the time, but since this night, I have started to pay more attention. As Neale Donald Walsch has said in Conversations With God, “The only reason to do anything is as an expression of who you are.”  

The story could stop here, but no. Ever since that night, I have had a running conversation with myself about living in Santa Fe again.

I went to a few open houses, talked with a realtor and saw a few more houses, and started actively considering a move. I mentally went into room in my house in Virginia to select what I would keep and what I would let go of. I wondered who would miss me if I left. That was the upside.

Questions

There was, though, a big downside. Never mind the money aspect; there is the ex-husband, and the marriage and the divorce, the leaving. Been there, done that, including a failed attempt at a reconciliation almost a year after the divorce. Could I go back? Could I make myself believe that the 23-year journey I’ve been on since then was all necessary for growth and pruning necessary for more growth? Could I dispose of, dispense with, dump, and discard my material possessions and convince myself that things don’t matter? Would I stay in a place of forgiveness or would I have to reopen and reexamine old wounds? Would I be able to accept a new standard of living? Would I like and accept the new person I am sure to become? Do I have it in me to dream big one more time, or will past unfulfilled dreams get in the way? Is this a true do-over, a chance … for what?

Fast Forward Almost a Year

Well…….I wrote that first part of this post last year when I spent seven weeks in Santa Fe. As you may know, I chose not to make the move then, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to still answer those same questions. And some new ones. A trip around the sun doesn’t guarantee all the answers.

For example, I am going to visit family in Minnesota for a high school graduation and a wedding celebration next month. It’s “home,” kinda, but it’s also not my home anymore. It’s a place to remind me of my roots but more and more when I go back, I need my own space. So I am taking my camper, which is another expression of who I am now, collageand instead of hanging out with at the homes of my sibs, I will have my own campsite at a lake, and they can come visit me if they want. They have jobs, and houses to maintain, and their own families and friends. I don’t want them to feel obligated to entertain me for weeks on end, and I don’t want to feel I have to be the gracious guest for weeks on end.

I want to see my old home through different eyes this time. Not because I am considering moving back (have you heard about the winters??); moreso because I am gratefully arriving at a place in my life where I can appreciate my past more, appreciate the environment and the people and the quirks, appreciate my own history, without clinging to it.  I can enjoy the process of that reflection. I will have my own home, which is a kind of security in itself, a grounding that keeps me connected to who I am now, so I don’t fall unaware into who I maybe used to be when I was there.

I don’t necessarily mind that the old labels defined me, because there is a  sense of belonging can’t be replicated any other way. But I also want to be the expression of who I am now. I used to be the girl who shared a blah blue bedroom with two beds and three younger sisters. Now I drove 2000 miles to get there, have pink polka-dotted curtains with fringe on the bottom that I made myself, in a camper I named Saffianna with a beaded chandelier and an antique quilt, and an ironing board repurposed as a table. I have a tattoo, drive a pickup truck, walk three dogs (one of which is blind and deaf), and I have purple or pink or silver hair, depending on my mood that day. You could say that someone who likes antiques, drives a pickup truck, has a dog, and knows what an ironing board is could be a conservative traditionalist. I say it’s kinda hard to be accurate about who I am if you don’t really know me.

Free at Last!

It’s only been in the last year that I even experimented with purple or pink hair spray. That is one of the facets among the multitude of changes I have made since I found myself a widow. I might have gotten here eventually anyway, but widowhood has gifted me time to discover a sense of freedom and a confidence simply from having survived it.

At best, you can say I am still evolving. Gingerly. Happily. Curiously. 

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Does Action Precede Motivation?

The dogs were overly excited at the prospect of going for a walk among the crowds. I wasn’t. just getting them leashed up was increasing my blood pressure. What happened is that I wanted to go support my friend Amy who was having a book launch event for her first novel. I thought I could “swing by,” not realizing there was a local festival of sorts going on at the park she was at. My parking preference was in the shaded parking garage across the street from the park, and that was full. I went to the upper deck level, also full. The road was closed at the next street, and we ended up about 6 blocks away, requiring walking downhill about 2 blocks and then along the beach the rest of the way. I had no idea where I might actually find Amy in this crowd. It was a very warm day, and I couldn’t leave the dogs in the car in the sun. Usually I would have left them at home, but I thought this was a quickie thing, after I had run other errands.

So…dogs happy, me not so much.

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We go where you go, Mom!

You might remember that Harley is blind and deaf, and he’s a 5# Yorkie. Easily trampled if you’re not watching closely. Bo is a senior beagle who acts like a curious hunter when walking in crowds, and he loves to bay Hello to anyone within ear shot. Sasha, the circus dog, is a toddler and acts like a neglected one in desperate need of attention to anyone within licking distance. My hand is still sore four days later from the strangling it took to hold onto their leashes. All’s well that ends well, though. We all survived, and I got to see Amy. Later, the dogs were exhausted, and we all took naps when we got home.

I have known Amy for about 4 years. We have had a friendly acquaintanceship, and I was proud of the fact that she called on me to advise and coach her through the publishing of  Front Coverher first book. As it happens, though, my expertise is more along the lines of assessing readiness and supporting the writer through the writing process. She had already written her book and needed editing and publishing guidance. I referred her to another friend, and they created magic. Check out her book here. It’s for young adults about a girl who is raised by her grandparents when her mom becomes a drug addict. I was enthralled, and moved.

My own book idea about the grieving process, or how I changed as a result of grief, or inspiration for living through grief, or something (you see part of my problem, right?), has been languishing for two years and counting. I don’t remember how long it took Amy to write hers, but from the time she first contacted me about it until publication was barely a few months. I was extremely happy for her, and yet I felt that sinking feeling of failure that I had not even finished my first draft.

Amy’s brother John was assisting at her table at the park. She was busy autographing books and talking to customers, and so John and I chatted. I said something about her great beginning and my slow meandering in Neverland, and he said, “Action precedes motivation.” Light bulb!! Yes! I remember that, needed to hear it, and immediately resonated with the expression. I had heard this before, and in fact, have been known to use a version of this old saying myself. John Maxwell includes his version of this in his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: The Law of the Big Mo. It’s all about Momentum. (Disclosure: I am certified to teach Maxwell’s 21 Laws, so no surprise that I connected to it right away.)

The gist, of course, is that it’s important to prime the pump first to get some momentum going.  But…it’s easier to steer than to start, right? The paradox is that motivation is key in developing momentum. I think of it like riding my motorcycle: it’s easier to stay upright if you ride faster instead of slower, but you still have to turn on the bike and start in first gear just to get going.  Arghh! Which is where the action part comes in. Putting my butt in the chair in front of the computer and working on it, not waiting for Inspiration to tap me on the shoulder and whisper “Now.” Once I do this, the inaction gene is deactivated, making room for more action. Momentum can spread and generate more enthusiasm. Bottom line: I need to make it happen; I can’t just wait around hoping it will happen by itself.

The book writing isn’t the only place I find myself languishing. This semi-retirement phase I’m in is an incubator for doing a lot of nothing, a breeding ground for inaction. I was reminded of this when  another friend of mine, Christine, came to visit this past weekend. We used to work together, and we were able to get a few things checked off the Work Bucket List when we collaborated. She was in town to celebrate a professional accomplishment, her achievement as a Fellow of the Institute for Court Management. I myself had completed that designation about 15 years ago. Christine included me in the Acknowledgements section of her final research paper, noting that I had been “an inspiring force” in her career in the court management world. We talked a lot of about who else is doing what these days, and I felt a dullness about not seeming to do anything productive, noteworthy, or innovative any longer. Which isn’t true, but it felt like at the time we were talking.

For a bit I felt out of touch, irrelevant, and like I had aged out of the system, so to speak. It’s been 3-1/2 years since I left my last full-time paid employment, and sometimes I still miss the everyday buzz of being on the go. (I sometimes live vicariously be binge-watching The Newsroom or West Wing.)  I wondered if I had finally exhausted my Personal Sabbatical that was supposed to be only one year and speculated that maybe I should consider re-entering the World of Work. When I quit my job, I thought I needed time to grieve and to evaluate my purpose and place. I was offered a leave of absence (two to three weeks,  ha!), but I turned it down because I didn’t know how long it would take to find myself, reinvent myself, or ignite the fire that had burned out. Starting my Duggan Difference consulting business a few months later had the effect of short-circuiting my plans, and it’s only been in the last few months now that I have finally felt the release of the old me and my former life as a wife and court administrator, and accepted the changes in myself and my life that have come about. With probably 25 more years left on my personal calendar, though, you can see that I might need to find a few things to do yet, things that make a difference. Do you ever feel that way? I haven’t actually known too many people who have retired; most of them get another job or else they died prematurely.  And when you are solo, it’s harder to keep the batteries charged. There must be more; there is always Something More…for me, at least. I just need to know what it is.

Maybe that means that I am now in a better place, to do better work…better writing… about all these changes. I haven’t just crossed some line in the sand where before I was that, and now I am this.  Rather, I have been straddling the fence between this and that, and now I have chosen a side to jump to. As I’ve said before, it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything except eating bonbons and watching soaps all day for the past 3+ years. I have continued to contribute to the world by fostering and rescuing dogs, by creating beauty in the form of an updated house and yard and glamper, by teaching classes and generating new court leaders and gardeners and writers, by reaching out to support other widows or  others who have had some setbacks, by adding positive and productive energy into my neighborhood by serving on the Homeowners Association board, etc., etc., etc.  Hmmmn, just reminding myself of these things is slightly motivating. Obviously, I’m not done with my life yet.

When it comes down to it, my motivation for living despite the uncomfortable, sad, sometimes lonely vacuum that comes about during the grief process is the result of the actions I have taken to not fall victim to feeling sorry for myself or wallowing in self pity or isolating myself from a world that doesn’t make sense any longer. So John was right; action precedes motivation. And if it works for living, it surely must work for working. So today I am sitting at my desk, even though it’s going to be a pleasant 90 outside, the sun is shining, and the spring weather beckons me to laze away the morning. Already I feel energized from cleaning my desk, organizing my thoughts, and writing this blog. I am primed to do more writing, so off I go!

I hope you, too, will consider that taking the first step for anything is a huge step. I’m not an advocate for The Grind, always working, always pushing and grasping and digging in. I have learned a lot about peace of mind, relaxation, and appreciation. That is worth knowing about! But there is a time when either working or playing, just doing something can yield enough spin to set that flywheel in motion, creating more momentum. Before you know it, you’re on your way to a better … whatever, or another whatever, or a new whatever. Live, laugh, love. Action precedes motivation. True dat!

While I’m Waiting…

Writer’s Block?

I’ve been staring at this screen trying to think of a GOOD topic to write on. A month ago I realized it had been four months since I had posted, and I promised to get back on track “soon.” And now another month has slipped away, and I have not made myself sit in this chair and write something. I feel a little angst…and at the same time, a little anticipation at the wide open options.

Busy-ness

That doesn’t mean I haven’t done anything lately. It’s spring time in Virginia,

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Hellabores are taking off, finally, after 3 years

and so the flowers have needed admiring and the scraggly yard has needed attention. The federal government has required I file a tax return. One of my dogs has had an eye infection and needed extra attention.

 Plus, I went camping for the first time this season to make sure no leaks and that things I will need for an OCTOBER trip (yeah, I know…talk about a distraction) are on board. 20190403_130628[1]Plus, I have been generally “taking possession” of my home and camper in new ways.

This Taking Possession is an important piece of work. Have you done it? Last year, I had one foot in the door and one foot out…so to speak. I had visited Santa Fe and stayed gone for 7 weeks. I had decided to relocate back to Santa Fe, met with a realtor, saw houses, talked to friends and family, made lists of what I need to do, what I had to get rid of, etc. It was overwhelming. Then I got back here to do the packing. I met with my realtor here, met with a mortgage banker, and rearranged some furniture. I was disappointed to realize that this would not be a smart financial move right now given my equity situation. I made a new decision, to wait. I don’t know for how long. I guess until it feels right.

…Waiting…

Waiting is hard. It was no fun as a kid waiting for school to start or school to get out or for my birthday or for Christmas. It was no fun as a young adult waiting for “those” 9 months to be over, or for the last day at a not-great job, or for a child to come home at night. It is still no fun as a mature adult to wait in line at the security checkpoint at the airport, or for the buds to open into flowers, or for the deposit to appear in my bank statement. Waiting for it to be The. Right. Time. for anything is never fun.

I’m trying to get better at waiting: voilal! Meditation. Be present, be in the moment, be patient. My history with sitting still and quieting my mind, though, is a mountain to climb. To make it easier, I repurposed my Diva Den, 20190225_102212[1]the sitting room next to my master bedroom. When Kevin was here, he watched television downstairs in the Man Cave, so I claimed this little room for me. I did crafting, sat in my massage chair, watched my tv shows, read. Now I can watch movies downstairs, and I seem to prefer crafting at the dining room table. Thus, an unused room. Perfect setting, right?

I went to a class on meditating, and I was inspired by the environment. The next thing I knew, I had bought some framed mirrors at the Habitat ReStore, de-framed them, and hung them on the wall. Then I took a wooden bar from the garage for hanging coats, and I made a ballet barre to use for balance. I laid some foam tiles over the carpet on the floor. I brought up some plants from downstairs. I even found a few cute beaded floor cushions at a local consignment store. I took a picture to send to my friend, and because I happened to show up in the mirror of the pic, she called it my Selfie Studio. And that’s what I call it now, since this room is all about me…myself…and I. It’s the place I let all my stuff not exist for a few minutes.

Most mornings (except for about the last two weeks when I have been lazy) I go in there, do floor exercises and some yoga for about 20-30 minutes, and then I sit quietly and try to meditate. Some days I can do a half hour. Some days I do a half minute. Most days I make it somewhere in the middle. And on the days I do it at all, I always feel better. I am proud of myself for having made myself a priority at last.

Now, you might think that a widow of over four years, who has no outside employment, would be fabulous at making herself a priority pretty much all day, every day. The truth is, it is easy to be lazy or to make excuses, but it is not easy to do self-care. I have 40+ years of experience and culture/tradition of expectation to take care of others, including my dogs now, or my neighbor who needs a ride or a friend who needs support or an organization who needs me to follow through on my membership commitment.

I asked my sisters to join me in a wellness challenge for one month, doing just one thing a day that could be called Self Care. It could be reading, as one of them did. It could be exercise, as the other two tried to do. I tried meditation (and taking my daily vitamin daily). And I did it at least 5/7 days every week for that month. The following month, we couldn’t agree on a challenge theme, and my motivation weakened until it fell apart. Plus it got warmer outside, and I was itching to get my camper out.

Distractions…or Expression?

The camper actually took a few weeks, since I decided to revamp her, again. I had bought–I mean, the DOGS bought me a fabulous antique quilt at Christmas time, and that became my inspiration for redecorating. I found a plastic beaded chandelier at a thrift store that set the tone for a glamped up style, 20190307_164617[1]I made new curtains and pillow shams, I replaced stained kitchen curtains with new flouncy things, a rug her and a set of dishes there, plus a few safety features like a grab bar on the screen door and another railing to get up and down the outside steps, and I was done. I had called her Summer, since her model is Summerland, but now I rechristened her Saffianna. The quilt came from the Santa Fe Antique store, and one of my sisters calls me Pattianna, so I got Sa-Fe-An, which morphed into Saffianna. She’s a real cutie.

It occurred to me that the changes I was making to Saffianna were primarily cosmetic, and they could be changed at any time. I proved that by remaking her last year, and now doing it again. Rightr now, she screams Girl Camper! I have heard people talk about not making changes to their decor or structure because “someday” they might want to sell whatever it is (home, camper, carpet even), and then a buyer won’t like the changes. As if they’d prefer builder basics anyway! I had that thought myself as I hung a chandelier in the camper, and as I hung mirrors (5 of them) on the wall in my Selfie Studio. And I don’t care what anyone else thinks; I like it. I love it!! I live here now, and as long as I am, it’s mine, and it can (and should) reflect me. This is MY place, and I am going to stop being cautious about what the next owner might want.

Home, Sweet Home

With that in mind, I planted more bushes in the back yard, took out some others (along with some trees) in front of the house, 20190416_075319[1]and transplanted a clematis from my mailbox to the side of the garage. Permanent changes, more or less; at least until someone else (or me, someday) moves them again.

It feels good to claim this place as mine. I have made baby steps in the past, by repainting the walls (purple in the guest bedroom), or putting up wall stickers, or hanging decor that requires anchors and big screws.

When I was contemplating moving, I thought I would definitely need to get rid of dishes, especially fancy serving ones, but instead, I have purchased THREE SETS of new dishes recently. Two can be seen here.

One was just a pretty setting for four because I liked the butter dish  – and what is a butter dish without the salt and pepper shakers, which beg for dessert plates, which must have dipping bowls to go along. Another set was a service for 8. They are white plates with a single red poppy and some greenery. It happens I was a Poppy Queen back in 1976 for the local VFW, so poppies have been a “thing” for me for a long time. They were a surprise find in a consignment store, and I got the entire set for $29. The third set is a kitschy, plastic set of 4 camping plates and bowls. Of course, I still have my Christmas dishes, and my regular everyday dishes, and the extra clear plates, and the pretty set I got for my first wedding. But you know what? I use them. All of them. I have started entertaining friends, having tea in the afternoon or sharing dinner in the evening, or hosting the neighborhood Bunco group, or using my nice trays when I take an appetizer or dessert to a potluck. Who knew it could feel so good to express myself this way?

In my family, we always called Peggy the crafty one. She is the baker, and the painter, and landscaper, and the one who sews or repurposes or creates silk purses out of sow’s ears. But now I know that this doesn’t have to mean I can’t also be crafty. I have gotten good use out of my old sewing machine, and my paint brushes, and my checkbook. Plus my writing. And organizing. And decorating. And relationship-building. Hey, World, I’m crafty!!

I feel good. Really, really good. About the life I have created now. It might not be everyone’s way, but that’s okay. I know that Life wants me to live my own way, not someone else’s. For example, I have learned that there are a lot of ways to meditate besides just sitting on the floor, humming and aching from the pretzel shape I’m in, waiting. So I listen to music when I pull weeds, I stare out the window over the sink when I wash my pretty dishes, I let all three of my dogs flop all over me on the couch.20190413_162203[1] I do the Sunday stroll around the neighborhood on Tuesdays if I want. I reach out when I want company and I decline calls when I don’t feel like talking. And I nap.

Just being is harder than it looks. We are trained from babyhood to be doing. I am fortunate that I can work on this without worrying about going to a day job. I have said often that grieving gives one the gift of time because for a while at least, people just “let you be.” They drop expectations for a few days or weeks. And even a few years later, they casually excuse lapses in what they think is poor judgment because of The Loss, and she was never the same after that. Amen! If I have to be here in this world without him, if I have to fly solo, or choose to stay Solowingnow, then I’m happy for this living laboratory to try out being me in. I’m claiming my place at the fire where I can be silent or tell stories or speak up as I choose.

Satisfaction

And now that I have almost finished this post, I feel not just relief for achieving my goal of getting it done, but I feel accomplished,  like I may have contributed something to the Greater Good today, a perspective, a distraction, a connection. This is how the world is changed, by our willingness to be our selves. So buy new dishes if you must, or foster (or adopt) one more dog, or spend a few dollars on a cheap thrill at the thrift store, or create something that gives you a smile, even if it’s just pink polka-dotted curtains with fringe on the bottom or white curtains with colored floofy, loopy chenille trim or linen curtains with bouncy red dingle balls trim.

Til the next time, whenever that itch needs to be scratched again, I’m off to let the world know I’m still here!

Embarrassed…4 Months??!??

I have had what seems like a thousand blog ideas pass through my thoughts in the past four months, but none of them has made it onto the keyboard. I am embarrassed about this lapse, and all I want to do now is tell you I am still around, that I haven’t given up, that I still want to write and share stories. I’m not sure why or how I have managed to stay away this long. I have had a few busy weeks since November 12 when I last posted…like a trip to see Peggy for Thanksgiving, and a trip to Santa Fe for Christmas, and a trip to Minnesota with the grand-girls for another Christmas. But that was months ago. I haven’t gone anywhere aside from the grocery store, craft store, or occasional restaurant or Toastmasters or Homeowners Association meetings, amazingly enough. But time does seem to get away from me now and then. So I’ll do better. I promise!

Resiliency 101

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Resiliency:  Some dictionary and online definitions include phrases like “adapting well,”  mental reservoir of strength,” “recovering quickly from illness or misfortune.” Related words include buoyancy, flexibility, pliability, springiness, and bounce. Hmm…..

It sounds like some quality you either have or don’t have, which is inaccurate and incomplete, in my opinion. My description of resiliency is the ability to bounce back from challenges of all kinds-personal and professional, whether from a minor or major problem, mishap, setback, or tragedy, due to having engaged in processing my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to gain perspective and experience. Whew!  That’s a mouthful, I know.

Let me simplify it a little bit…to be resilient or have resiliency means that you have not only taken in data (by reading or being told or doing something or having it happen to you) but that you have processed that to turn it into information you can use in the present and the future. It is an active effort rather than a passive one. This results in an ability to make sense of things quicker and manage them better  each time you encounter something similar after that, although if you tried to take a shortcut or for some reason didn’t or weren’t able to fully deal with the problem/tragedy, you will likely force a do-over at some point in time. Which may make that time worse or deeper, taking longer to handle because of the backtracking and overdue realizations.

The past two weeks have provided ample opportunity for me to test my resiliency. November is the anniversary of my husband’s passing four years ago, a few days before Thanksgiving, and it is also the month of his birthday. I truly think I have done my grief work, having relived or reimagined past losses (his and others) , turning caution into skepticism, and then becoming resourceful and taking action to construct a new normal. I still have my moments (which I expect will continue to happen) but overall, I am a relatively happy person these days, satisfied with my lifestyle, content with my economic forecast, and optimistic and hopeful about the future.

Political elections caused me to evaluate and defend my values against the drama and reality of the community, state, and country I live in. It was a little more emotional than normal because I have vested myself in some volunteerism surrounding the polls.I feel somewhat more affected  individually than usual, maybe because I feel my mortality differently, I have health insurance concerns now that I am not employed, the seemingly constant weather scares due to climate change, and the discontent that has turned into hateful unrest around us.  I have a new concept of how time works, and people who think there is plenty of time for “fixing” things at the federal level have a different perspective. So I am focusing on the local impact and doing what I can. The fact that I am being active about anything is a sign of some resiliency, since it involves being willing to take risks.

Last week my oldest child had her 41st birthday, giving me pause and plenty of rewinds of my past. I spent a day in pajamas moving from one end of the couch to the other, replaying the day I delivered her and other milestones in her life, but mostly about all the turns my life took since then. It sounds selfish in retrospect, since it should have been a day of joy for her, but yet, I am a firm believer that one doesn’t stop having a life because she becomes a mother, particularly as the child is an adult now and we live 3000 miles apart. So, yes, I did obsess (and maybe wallow a little) over how quickly time has gone by and the decisions I made along the way that changed the direction of my/our life/lives along the way.

And then the fires in California created a measurable anxiety, as two of my children live in CA, one in the mandatory evacuation zone of the Woolsey Fire. That prompted a tiny bit of PTSD for me from when my house flooded in 1997 and I had to evacuate. My boys and I stayed in a hotel or with friends for about two weeks, and then began the cleaning and remodeling work that consumed the next six months. But here I am, feeling strong again, in awe that it was 21 years ago, and also proud that that experience helped me prepare for potential evacuation when the hurricane season threatened me for the first time this year.

Rereading this while editing it has me thinking I sound a little selfish….everything is about me. Yes, it is, and I’m okay with that right now. I have discovered lately that if I take time to figure out why something resonates or pricks at me, I can release some stress and turn resentment into acceptance, and anxiety into anticipation. Because I have had these various experiences, and of course, plenty of others, I have stored away snippets of past feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to call on as needed. It is why I know in my heart (not just in my head) that I can survive whatever life throws at me…because I have survived everything that has come at me so far. I wouldn’t want to go down those roads again in real time and wouldn’t wish my storehouse of calamities on anyone, but I am eternally grateful that because of them, I have become more resilient. I can choose my battles and make better decisions because I am not stuck in a rut or clueless and fearful about what’s coming next.

Dictionary.com says that resiliency is “the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” That’s silly, because there is NO WAY that anyone can return to “original form” after having gone through said bending or compression or stretching. Life changes us  and at the same time things change around us. We can’t avoid losses, or having doubts, or feeling uncomfortable, or making discoveries, or gaining new understandings that we integrate into our being.  We might joke and say we want things to go back to the way they were, but do we really? I don’t see how that is possible, because once we know, we can’t un-know.  We can’t unring the bell.

I saw a quote recently that is similar to the one on my masthead of this blog.  It read: A good education can change anyone, but a good teacher can change everything.  I have updated it a few times, like this: A good marriage can change anyone, and Kevin changed everything. And, My life with Kevin changed me, and his death changed everything. And, I changed because of Kevin, and then his death changed me again.  I’m sure you could think of other ways to frame this. The bottom line for me is that I have had a terrific (as in terror-ific) life so far; I wonder what else is in store for me? Luckily, I am gaining even more resiliency, so I am ready for it!

 

Risky Business

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Tom Cruise

Do you suppose Tom Cruise knew that when he cranked up some Bob Seeger and slid across the hall in his tidy whities, playing the air guitar,  he would become famous? Well, that’s the extent of what I’ve seen and know about the movie that catapulted him to movie stardom. Oh, and I have heard the “What the **** ” expression attributed to the movie Risky Business also. Anyway, I’m probably one of a handful of people who haven’t seen that movie. (I also have never seen any of Star Wars or Star Trek shows either, but that’s another story.) That’s not to say I am unacquainted with other kinds of risky business. Here are three examples from just this week.

1. Rambo.

Not the movie; I did see that one. This is the dog, a rescue puppy I agreed to foster. He’s a cutie pie, a real love bug. He is a Beagle/Chihuahua mix, and I was told he was about 13 weeks old. I’d probably only have him a week, since he was cute and young and little. It’s now 10 daysrambo, and I’m hoping the woman who comes to meet him tomorrow wants to take him home.

The first problem with any puppy coming into my home is that I already have three other dogs: Bo, a 12 year old Beagle; Sasha, a rescued 3 year old Terrier (Westie? Yorkie?)/Maltese mix; and Harley, a rescued 12 year old (?) Yorkie who is deaf and blind. Try saying Rambo and Bo and get the right dog to respond to you. The name is a challenge. He is also more active, and Bo especially doesn’t like all the commotion, so he barks (or bays, as Beagles do). A lot.

The second problem with a rescue puppy is that they aren’t reliably house-trained. Or forget reliability; they just aren’t. They pee and poop wherever they want. You can kennel or crate them all you want, but as soon as you take them out, they dribble in your arms or on their way to the door. Particular to rescues, in my experience, is they get grain-free poop-inducing puppy chow, so they have to go poop several times a day. Good thing he is cute!

The third problem with a rescue puppy is that they haven’t had all their shots yet, so you can’t be too careful socializing them or walking them outdoors. Which means they are on leash under your immediate care and watchful eye A LOT. Then when there is a threat they have been exposed to Parvo before you ever set eyes on the cutie pie, you get to worry about your own dogs and you get to take him to the vet for shots and other medication, just in case.

Finally, the fourth problem is that a rescue’s age is a guess, so the vet said this supposed 13 weeks could really be closer to 10 weeks.  Meaning they have all their sharp, pointy, baby teeth. And like a human baby who is teething, they chew ON EVERYTHING to relieve the pressure. They chew on fingers, on blouses, on chair legs, on wooden doggie gates, on plastic food dishes, on squeaky toys, on books and magazines, on table clothes that float to the floor, and the edges of step stools and cupboards. Luckily, no electrical cords. Good thing they are small and cuddly!

In spite of all the challenges associated with a puppy, they are still cute and lovable, especially when they fall asleep in your arms or slather you with kisses and licks. I need the attention, and I need to know I can give as much as I get. The real risk is that you will fail as a foster and not want to let them be adopted out. That’s how I got Sasha and Harley! It’s a good thing I have learned the difference between being loving and falling in love. That is what let me foster Lily and Bandit this past winter and help them find good furever homes. So I am ready for Rambo’s prospective new mama to come meet him, and I really really hope she likes him enough to give him a chance. She has another dog at home already, so the real issue is whether or not the fur babies will get along.  Risky for her, too. Risky for Rambo. Risky for the pet sibling.

2.  Politics.

My daughter posted a picture of a woman she worked with who happens to be very controversial. Her politics aren’t for everyone, as my girl stated in her post. But she did also point out that the woman was kind to her and good to work with. The backlash from supposed friends who didn’t think my daughter should have agreed to work with this particular woman was the worst kind: passive aggressive. I’d rather someone come right out and say what they think than play around with sarcasm and veiled comments, making assumptions, and not fact checking the propaganda they were sharing.

It happens that neither my daughter nor I are not of the same political bent as the woman. The verbal attacks against my daughter, though, were unsupported. I have been politically quiet for years, due to a long career in the courts…which are neutral, apolitical entities where I come from, and which I agree with.  The Third Branch of Government is part of a system of checks and balances, not a party-aligned system of granting indulgences.

I stood by my daughter, publicly and proudly, and challenged a particular man who was intent on getting his word out, and essentially hijacking the original post for his own purposes. I told him that I felt she had the right to choose her work, and for him to try and shame her or embarrass her was  inappropriate and insensitive. He came back at me, and we parried for a bit. He said I did not know who he was, and I said it didn’t matter; he didn’t know me either. Finally, my daughter snuck in a comment that she was glad he finally met her mother. Didn’t stop him, or our debate. Ultimately, I remembered that you cannot win a rational argument with an irrational person, and I said my last words and signed off.

It’s not the first time I have defended my children. There was the time I took on the basketball coach of my junior high son for keeping the team at a nearly three hour practice session. And that other basketball coach of my son, which escalated to a meeting with the school Athletic Director and resulting in my 12th grade son getting benched in retaliation, proving my point of what an immature, unprofessional coach he was. I’m sure those weren’t the only times I made my kids cringe. There was also the teacher I sought a restraining order against, and the counselor I complained about to the local medical board … Suffice it to say, the Mama Bear is alive and well after a few years of hibernation. Still, you never know in these politically-charged days when the debate will get too personal and take on a life of its own in negativity, bashing, regret, or even hatred that gets acted upon. Risky business, indeed.

3.  NaNoWriMo.

The third risk I took on this week was to sign up and participate in National Novel Writing Month. It is an international movement, the purpose of which is to encourage writers to start and finish a 50,000 draft in the 30 days of November. That’s 1,666 words per day, folks, which can be a lot! For reference, what I have written in this post up to this point is 1251 words, and I have invested an hour already but will need to go back to edit and format still before I post. You’ll note that my last post was in September, and it is now November 1. It can take a long time to get coherent thoughts written down!

My point is that my words don’t always flow easily and effortlessly every day, all day long. I need a compelling topic to write about, or the block of time I want, or a sense of urgency or timeliness, or something to get my butt in the chair to write. I don’t think it’s so much a matter of discipline, although that could be part of it, but it’s more a lack of commitment to a regular schedule or to completion of a goal. Commitment is more of a decision I stand behind, a promise to myself so to speak. Discipline, on the other hand, has a more negative connotation to me, a punishment of sorts, making what could be a fun endeavor into a chore.

In the case of this novel, I have gone public by registering on the NaNoWriMo website to declare my intention and put myself up to the challenge. I even tried to post my picture, but it keeps getting rejected as too large a file. Anyway, I had a friend do it last year. She started on November 1, wrote every day, and finished her draft that month. By Christmas she asked me to be a reviewer before she sent it off to an editor, by March I had a printed copy in my hand, and she was recently up for an award for new authors. I was impressed, to say the least. I’m not one of those who say “if she can do it, so can I, ” but I was inspired to know that it is possible. If I put my mind to it.

I also have found a local writing buddy. We plan to get together a few days a week for at least a few hours to work on our respective projects. A local co-working business has offered desk space free of charge to anyone participating in NaNo. The puppy is hopefully going to his new home tomorrow, so no more excuses.

It’s risky to put yourself out there in such a way. The first hit when you get behind will be to your momentum, which can easily snowball into quitting entirely. Then the ego gets involved and starts getting defensive and making excuses, probably blaming others along the way. It’s one more loss to add to the pile of losses, proving that I’ve lost my mojo, or I never had it to begin with – which is probably worse.

Finally, the New Beginning

When one is vulnerable, as I have been during the grieving process of these past few years, it’s easy to withdraw and backslide. I truly feel like I have worked my way through my grief and found a comfortable, productive place from which to move forward.  The end is over, and the new beginning has definitely begun. Being willing to take some risks is proof positive of the healing that has taken place. Of course, most wounds leave a scar, sometimes invisible ones but scars all the same. Having healed doesn’t mean I  have packed away the old feelings or forgotten them; it means I have recovered strength and found hope for the future. Later this month will be the fourth anniversary of Kevin’s passing. I’m proud of myself for having made it thorough this valley, and I’m looking forward to the climb now. This getting-on-with-my-life is risky business.

PS

This post, not including pictures, is 1906 words. Just so you know, this is comparable to how many words are needed every day for NaNoWriMo.

Lessons from MacGyver

Storm Prep the MacGyver Way

What do hard-boiled eggs, bar-b-ques (Sloppy Joes), pinto beans, and a very tall glass of OJ have in common? Yes, that’s right, folks. It is my supper. Lunch was a take-out box of spaghetti from Monday. I started to prepare some food that I could eat cold if necessary or that could be heated up easily on a gas grill bit first I have to get older leftovers out of the way to make room in my fridge. I stockpiled some fresh food and beverages (including a quart of cream for my instant coffee) that would sustain me for a few days during a predicted visit from Hurricane Florence – who at the time was not going to be a Cat 3 or 4. I bought the requisite water and disinfectant wipes, charged my flashlight and other electronics, put fuel in the car and truck, got cash. Remember, MacGyver’s M.O. was to use what he had on hand, keep his sense of humor and stay humble, and avoid conflict. Like MacGyver, I was planning to take it seriously so I could stay calm in the crisis.  That was the plan.

Before I could remove all the potential flying missiles (i.e., backyard crap) from the storm’s path, I also had to make room in my garage for the chairs, tables, doo-dads, trash and recycling bins, etc. It happens that our neighborhood will be having a community-wide yard sale in a few weeks, so double win for me: I could clean garage, pile things for sale on one side, and yard trinkets on the other.

That Other Flood

It’s So No Fun to do all of this by yourself. It’s hard work, lifting and shlepping and shoving and piling things precariously. I know; I’ve done it before. I lived through a flood, in which my house took on 51″ of water. But, luckily, that time I had my two boys and an entire community helping sandbag  and otherwise prepare.  In the end, I gave up the house rather than risk lives due to a breach on the other side of the river, my eight sump pumps taking turns taking breaks, and the threat of a compromised wall in my basement. So that’s all another story, but in the end, I could find not one good reason to stay strong and be tough in the face of calamity. So I evacuated. After two weeks of sandbagging, moving furniture, losing sleep, and accepting help, I walked away. I fought as much as I could, and then I couldn’t any more.

It’s now 21 years later, and instead of a flizzard (flood + blizzard), I’m preparing to outrun a hurricane that may or may not be a direct hit but will still carry plenty of danger. I have had a few offers of help, and I did take Jackie up on it. She helped me get plants and yard crap under the deck (behind the lattice) or into the garage.

Mishaps, Setbacks, and Tragedies

But I have to tell you about a little mishap I had on Sunday, pre-Jackie. Once before, another time not the flood, I had a little mishap also. The flizzard was a setback, and now I know the difference. That one took months to recover from physically, and years in terms of PTSD whenever I saw floods in the news on television. I have also experienced tragedies (death, health conditions) but these were not that. I’m not whining here, just giving you some context so you don’t judge me.

That Other Mishap

So that other time I was getting ready to go on vacation and needed to get the dog kennels out of the garage attic. I was home alone; in fact, my husband and I had a commuter marriage at the time, so he was 200 miles away. I placed the 20′ extension ladder into the access hole door in the ceiling, climbed up, and retrieved the crates. I had done this kind of thing several times.

I lowered the crates down to the floor, reached for the door panel while standing on the ladder, and promptly kicked the ladder out from under me somehow. I grabbed the frame around the ceiling/floor opening and held on. The frame was surrounded by an L-shaped metal flange that held the covering. It was sharp, and hard, and it hurt.

I couldn’t think how MacGyver would have gotten out of this predicament, but I analyzed the situation and came up with a few thoughts. 1. It was going to hurt, because it was about 10′ down. I am aware of my limitations, and I am not a gymnast. 2. The ladder was on the floor directly underneath me, and to land on it was likely to cause a further movement upon impact. 3. The ladder had round rails and round rungs or steps, meaning I could easily roll my foot/ankle/knee or whatever hit the ladder. 4. If I landed on one of the kennels, that could cause a ricochet slide/bump/fall.

I did not have my cell phone on me, and the garage door was closed. The cell phone would have been a good thing to have handy. No one would see my legs dangling out of the ceiling and come to my aid. Luckily, the dogs were in the house, so I did not have to consider landing on one of them. Unluckily, they also were not related to Lassie and would not likely be able to go get help.

I finally let go, swung my not-svelte body, and managed to clear the ladder below me. Concrete is hard, though, and there was no graceful way to land softly. My injuries were long scrapes on my arms and ribs and legs, but nothing was broken. I was mad at my absent husband for not being there. (I know, this was a little irrational, definitely not humorous or humble.) Worse, the damn kennels did not fit in the trunk of the car after my great sacrifice of skin! I had to disassemble them and put one in the trunk and one in the back seat. All this delayed my departure by a few  hours, making me grumpier. But I survived, and I learned from that episode.

The Latest Mishap

This past Sunday I had occasion to again MacGyver my way out of a somewhat similar situation, i.e., consider how to fall best so as to limit the inevitable injuries. shelfThis time I was up on a 6′ step ladder, maybe 4′ off the solid hard unforgiving concrete floor of the garage. Wearing flip flops. Holding a computer printer that I was trying to put on a shelf above my head. Between the staircase with wooden post and railing that goes into the house from the garage and a set of golf clubs I was also going to move up and out of the way.

This time I did have the garage door open. I also left the door to the house open but with a doggie gate in place. My reasoning was that if I fell, eventually the dogs would get hungry and bark at me, and when I didn’t respond, their barking would alert the neighbors, who would see it was dark and my garage door was still open, too. Eventually, someone would come to my rescue. The phone was on the table in the kitchen, unfortunately, but also fortunately because I would have smashed it given what happened next.

MacGyver Thinking

Can you guess what happened? Yessiree, Bob! I went down. But while in mid-air, I managed to stop time long enough to consider advice from my ex-husband back in the day when he was teaching me to drive a stick shift: If you have to hit something, aim for the cheapest thing.

My thoughts: 1) Don’t land on your back on the railing because you will then flip over and hit the steel post that protects the furnace. There is no way that can be good. 2) Don’t try and break your fall by putting out your hands because you’ll break your arms. 3) Don’t land on the golf clubs because a 60-year-old woman impaled on a putter or a 7-iron will not be pretty and will hurt a lot. 4) I only had about 4′ to fall, and the most padding I have naturally is in my “backyard,” so it might be jarring but best case scenario was to land on my arse if I could. ladder

I dropped the printer (not in my plan) and landed on top of part of that. I also landed on part of the bent leg of the aluminum piece of crap ladder (some of the bruises now match the width of leg of the ladder). I did stay face up and did not have whiplash that could have come from kissing the concrete. My glasses flew all the way to the garage door, so I’m certain there was a bit of head action somehow. No broken bones, nor an injured coccyx,  just a sprained wrist and the aforementioned bruise on my acidosilus. Which is the size of a generous salad plate, and very dark in color.

I lay there a minute and saw my neighbor pull into her driveway. She just moved in a week ago, so although I knew her name and had met her once, I didn’t really feel like this was a good time to chitchat. I quickly inventoried my moving parts: I could move fingers and toes, there was no bleeding. I was breathing normally and without pain. No double vision, no headache or wobbly neck.

I picked myself up and hobbled into the house to call my sister. I was all shook up and burst into tears as soon as she answered the phone. She is so great at listening and helping me to calm down; she’s had a fair bit of practice with me. I was furious at Kevin for again not being here so that I was alone and had to do this without him. One hour and two scoops of Colombian Coffee & Vanilla Bean ice cream later, I was “okay.” My ankle was swelling and the wrist was throbbing, so I got the ice packs out, put my feet up, and rested for most of the rest of the day.

Angel on Duty?

Now, here’s the interesting part. Yesterday, two days after the incident, I was having lunch with a group of friends. I was enjoying my status as Center of Attention while I told the story of why I was wearing a wrist support brace. I got to the part about being mad at Kevin for not being there, saying he should have used his angel capacity and either swooped in to catch me or flown under me to keep me from harm. And one said, “Well, he was there, don’t you think? You didn’t knock yourself out or break any bones or scratch your glasses. It could have been so much worse, and it wasn’t.”

Wow!  She was exactly right. He was there, he had to be! I was immediately contrite and grateful. And happy!! I have an angel, and he was on duty! I keep doubting, and he keeps proving to me he is here. How I didn’t get a serious injury given the fate of the ladder is at least a minor miracle, in my book. I didn’t  knock the golf clubs over either, just shoved them over a foot or so. My glasses skidded a good 10 feet across the concrete floor. I was a little sore Monday, and even more sore yesterday, but not so stiff I couldn’t move; just creaking a little.It is still awkward to try and not use my left wrist when I’m packing and cleaning, or closing the car door and putting on my seat belt.

Evacuating from Hurricane  Florence

So back to why I was doing this in the first place, Hurricane Florence. I have zero interest in seeing what a hurricane looks like up close and personal. None at all. As the predictions worsened, I started making plans to go visit my sister in Ohio.

The expectation is the electrical power will go out for maybe a week. Not sure about water availability. The biggest worry is if a tree(s) falls on my house. I would prefer to not be sitting on my couch and suddenly have a tree in my lap.  I also know that my three dogs will destroy my house if they can’t get outside to do Their Business, plus Sasha is afraid of thunderstorms. The food I had prepared (plus veggies, smoothies, yogurts,and sandwich meat) to eat during this extended storm now needs to be consumed or taken with me so it doesn’t spoil while I’m gone. I am nearly as dreadful as a one-armed paper hanger trying to load a cooler and carry it to the car. I will have to finagle a suitcase from the attic, pack it, and get it from upstairs out to the car in the driveway. I have to manhandle a 28# beagle into his seat belt and the other two into their car seats. The forecast keeps getting updated but I am ready to go.

It feels like a little bit like I’m running away, but honestly, waiting this out is not on my Bucket List at all, no way, no how. I have anxiety already just thinking about the risks. I give my angel so much to do already, just falling off ladders and stuff, that I shouldn’t press my luck. I will get out while I can, so others can worry about the ones who really need worrying over. I pray for safe travels for those who are leaving and a safe stay for those who don’t.

What to do once you are prepared and waiting…

As long as the power stays on, you should watch some MacGyver episodes.  (What? You don’t know who he is? Check out MacGyver here.) I haven’t seen the new version but the original series was always pretty good. You just never know when a mishap, setback, or a tragedy will come your way. Best to stay calm in a crisis if you can.

 

Rx: Charm School

Flailing arms and legs, jerking head, baring teeth, and otherwise squirming and twisting every which way but loose (literally). I’ve seen people have seizures, and it wasn’t that. And it also wasn’t over, by a long shot. So far, it was a draw as to who was ahead in the battle to trim the toenails. I was secretly glad to witness that the veterinarian, a professional who even had an extra set of hands from her assistant, wasn’t much better at this than I was all by myself. At only 3 years old and 13#, Sasha was holding her own, but in the end, she came away with a nice set of short nails, a treat, and a recommendation for attendance at charm school. Seriously.

Then it was Harley’s turn. At around 12 years old but just barely 6#, he still proved to be a contender. In fact, he held out longer than Sasha did, and I was proud of my boy for the way he defended himself against the crafty pair with the clippers and Dremel. After all, he is blind, deaf, and has no teeth, and did I say only 6#? So his acrobatics against those two sighted tricksters was admirable. No recommendations for manners for him, but I’m guessing the hope was that I would be the one to learn something, and then I could somehow transfer all my new knowledge to him as well.

No offense taken; I know my kids are the product of their parenting… mine and whoever had them before me. Since it’s just us now most of the time, I let them get away with a lot, and they know I’m the Alpha. When it gets tricky is when other people or dogs are involved. It doesn’t bother me to let them be what they are, which is dogs, or more appropriately, animals. Yes, they sit on the furniture; it’s where I sit and I like to cuddle them. Yes, they sleep in bed with me; I don’t mind sharing a king-size bed that would otherwise be too … let’s not go there … (although I do whine about them sleeping on top of me). Yes, they bark at the neighbors walking by; when it gets to be too much, I just close the door. Their biggest crime (and this is all of them) is when they insist of eating breakfast at 0’Dark 30 in the morning. But I also have seen and heard Sasha get territorial and self-protective. And those nails do scratch me.

Can you teach an old dog (or mother) new tricks? Or a young one who has been flipped and flopped to four homes in the one month before I got her last year? Oh, did you see that? I am already making excuses for her (and ultimately, me). Yikes! I’m an enabler!! I can see it now. Darn it. You know what this means. I can’t un-ring that bell. I will at least have to give that trainer a call now.

The proof is in the pudding, my friend Diane says. I guess we’ll have to see about that. Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Sasha Goes to Charm School.

By the way, the rest of the annual checkup was all good. Weight gains, skin healed and fur flourishing; all test results fine; vaccinations given without incident. The vet did mention something about brushing Sasha’s teeth every day to keep plaque down. Like that is going to happen without me losing a finger or two. I’m sure that was a joke.

I feel pretty good about my critters and my role in getting them healthy and feeling safe. I feel like I’m just now getting to know the real dogs instead of the scared, stressed out, uncertain ones I rescued last year. (Truth: I am pretty sure they rescued us, me and Bo both. FYI, Bo happens to be fully recovered and bounding all around these days, either following Harley or escaping from Sasha. Grateful that his earlier paralysis this spring has gone away and that he has gotten used to his furry mates.)

Something MORE

Have you ever felt SO-O-O excited and scared and nervous and sure all at the same time? That’s what I’m going through right now. Oh, it’s rather fabulous to be me right now! It’s only taken 60 years for me, and it’s only been the last year or so during which my potential is being revealed.

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Remember the Personal Sabbatical I gave myself – one year to figure out my life, the year after the year after Kevin died? That was nearly three years ago. The first year after he died, I kept on working and trying to fit back into my old normal life, which was impossible. The job wasn’t living up to my expectations anyway, and I was smack-dab in the middle of mourning and grieving. The advice I kept getting was “don’t make any major decisions for one year.” It turns out that was good advice…for several reasons, but mostly because I was completely discombobulated and didn’t trust my own judgment about future decisions that would be needed to be made.

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The second year was the year of the sabbatical. I thought I could sit quietly and wait for God to call me on the phone and tell me what to do next, where and how to do it, and who to do it with. Instead of giving myself time and waiting for that call, I quickly (too quickly I think) started my own consulting biz and distracted myself from the grieving process. I listened to well-intentioned friends guide me back to their version of solid ground. What I really wanted to do was float and fly and drift for a while, but still not trusting myself, I let myself get involved in something I couldn’t really put my heart into. My heart was already busy, you see. That year flew by. So I agonized a bit about going back to work, getting a real job. In the end, I decided I needed another year.

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The third year that call still hadn’t come. I wasn’t any more clear about my work direction, but I was finding myself. I didn’t know if I had ever – in all my life – really known myself and committed to ME. I figured this out when I discovered that I hadn’t  really been happy in my life. Content, yes; satisfied, yes; accomplished, yes. But happy? I felt like I had sort of fallen into my life and hadn’t deliberately planned it out or said “I want this, and then went for it. So when people said to me now, “What do you want?”, I didn’t know.  I was frustrated that I didn’t know because I felt like I should. I felt guilty for not having figured it out sooner.

It was at that point I started my real grieving. Losing Kevin was one thing; losing myself was an extension of that. But losing our dreams when I didn’t have any of my own to plug into play was a different kind of sadness. I knew in my heart that his life was about him. Now, I had to face the reality that my life was about me, and I did not have my own dreams, my own plans, my own vision.

However, I had a new awareness that even if I wasn’t exactly happy, I certainly wasn’t unhappy. I was okay just as I was. In fact, I was getting happier than I could remember being, and I knew in my heart of hearts that there was something more waiting for me. I didn’t have to go in search, I just had to be ready. So I started to work on ME instead of working at a job for money. The pay was nil but the benefits are great!!!

Because of my philosophy about life after life, and that life goes forward, and that our children are Life’s longing for itself (thanks, Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet), I decided to stop being the grieving widow. Yes, I did just that – I made a decision to stop.  Besides, I was only doing a mediocre job at it anyway. Instead, I started to study my life and figure out what could make me happier, what events or people had influenced me in childhood and beyond, what forks in the road had I taken that made a difference to me. Then I talked to people who knew-me-when. My sister Peggy is only a year younger than I am, so we had a lot to talk about. My parents are both gone, but I talked to an aunt who was around all of my childhood. I talked to friends I’ve had for much of my adult life. I talked to my kids, too.  And I read dozens of old journals, books, magazine articles and blog posts, listened to music, watched movies, met new people who didn’t know me as a child or mother or wife.

I started a different kind of journal that has turned out kind of cool. I drew a family tree of sorts (more of a diagram with labels) and pasted in pictures of my mom and dad from when they were young and again about the time I was born, up through the years. I added pictures of me from infancy to today. I included pictures of my husbands and my kids as youngsters to today, plus my grandbabies. Then I described each person, somewhat objectively based on my “research.” Finally, I  followed what is the commonly known as the Fourth Step in AA, but I used the Adult Children of Alcoholics model, to do a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, my parents, and my life then and now.

The more I opened myself to what I was discovering, the more light bulbs clicked on, the more puzzle pieces started to fall into place, the more the past came alive. I started finally to make sense of my life with a 10,000 foot view (or 60-year telescope):  why I am the way I am, why I do the (some of the) things I do, what my values are, how I stored my feelings, what behaviors have changed, the results of decisions I made. The good news is that as I began to understand myself, I fell in LIKE with Me and we became great friends! Slowly over the last year, I have been letting go of old unresolved hurts, feeling old feelings and saying goodbye to them, learning to be kinder and gentler with my new BFF, Me.

It wasn’t an afternoon at the beach, to be sure. I laid the cards on the table – really, I made up  index cards for my feelings – and I played them one by one. Abandonment. Fear. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Betrayal. Loss. Insecurity. Anger. Love. Confidence. Hope. Safety. Pleasure. Inspiration. Excitement. Smart. And more. I would pick up a card and question myself about when I had felt that. I would try to remember a childhood experience related to that emotion. Many times I was unsure of what that emotion felt like; I had learned too well how to stuff it away, so identifying it and getting comfortable with it was a process, like defrosting old mystery meat so I could decide to cook it or throw it away. Fortunately, I was able to let go of many of my frozen feelings, which in turn lightened me up, which in turn made me happier. It was like Mario Bros. and I was jumping over the trolls and taking elevators to higher levels. Who knew this is what life was supposed to be about?!?

I still have to sit with my feelings and reflect by replaying old scenes, which now is a 60 year repository to go through. I have learned that living is truly an art; there is no one right way to do it. Social acceptability is worth less to me than it used to be. Praising myself and affirming my choices and decisions is actually more fun than I thought it would be.

I’m not done yet. But I know there is Something MORE for me yet in this lifetime. I was asked yesterday if I ever wish I could have Kevin back again. The obvious (and expected) answer is Of Course! But the courageous and honest answer is, Maybe. I have changed a lot in the past four years, and right now I  seem to be in a fast-forward phase of growth. Would he come back as he was then, or would he, too, have changed from his experiences wherever he is/was? I am not ready to really think about that too much, since it’s such a hypothetical question anyway. I’ve moved on, truly, madly, deeply. And I know I have more moving to do.

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Things Come Apart

The dog dish

The cute, colorful, ceramic dog dish sailed across the charming (read: uneven) Saltillo tile floor straight into the base of the unforgiving corner cupboard. My toe started throbbing before the food jumped all over the place seeking safety from the impact. 20180705_1609563The crash was more of a thwack sound, kind of dull; not like shattering glass, but the result was the same: shards everywhere. One of the problems with staying in someone else’s house,  you see, is that things aren’t where they would normally be. Thus, the simple step to find the cereal became a punt-kick for the poor dish. I’m glad it was our own dish I had brought along instead of one of theirs. But anyway, broke is broke.

I’m staying at my son’s house in Santa Fe while he and his family are on vacation. They watched my dogs while I detoured to California, and now it’s my turn to repay the favor. As it happens, I think I am going to owe them money; more on that in a bit. It has been unusually hot and windy here, too warm to cook a proper meal, so I was getting by with cold cereal for supper.

What do Kintsugi, Work, and HGTV all have in common?

The Japanese have a word for taking something broken and fixing it, usually with liquid gold, to create an even more beautiful replacement. It’s called kintsugi. I didn’t have any gold powder and other materials on hand, and anyway, it was a dog food dish. Still, I had a fleeting thought as I looked at the mess to be cleaned up: I could maybe fix this. (No, I didn’t even try.)

Fixing things is a habit. Partly it is because I was raised as a Midwestern girl to be thrifty and practical and independent. I’m also a teensy bit fiscally conservative (meaning I didn’t want to have to buy a new dish if I could fix this one), and I also believe in the reduce-reuse-recycle movement. I love consignment stores and second hand shops, and as an HGTV junkie when I had cable tv, I learned a lot about crafting.

My fixing habit is also born out of a preference to make things right, to keep peace, to not let things get out of hand, to keep everyone comfortable, to not have things once gone wrong not go wrong again; i.e., I relocated the remaining dog dishes to avoid breaking more of them.  I was (and am) quite good at confronting and even occasionally creating conflict if I need to. But that rarely is the case now. My fights are with usually with myself, between my head and my heart, over broken expectations of myself.  I am working harder now at trying to not overthink things, to observe and feel, to be present and not invest in worry and regret.

Buddy

So back to the dog dish. I remembered how I had bought it for Buddy when he was about 1-1/2. It was a find in the Denver airport, of all places. It was a souvenir gift for him when we left him with my Dad when we went to my son’s wedding in California 12 years ago. (I just remembered that I forgot to send him a Happy Anniversary wish! Darn!!) So wanting to fix it and keep it was an emotional response. Buddy crossed the Rainbow Bridge, as they say, a year ago. I shed a tear over the dish coming apart, realizing it was time to let go of another piece of him.

I came apart a little too. I had to, to let the tears out. And then as Harley wandered into the mess I was trying to sweep up, I found a little smile. I wouldn’t have him or Sasha with me today if I still had Buddy to care for. I scooped him up and snuggled him for a minute, feeling the warm liquid gold of love fix me.

A relationship

Other things have come apart on this trip as well. There was the conversation with my daughter about my living so far away from all of my family. That opened the door to continuing discussions about the sense of belonging, common desires, new plans being made. The old reasons are holding up like they used to; they were (and are) valid, but they’ve gotten thinner as time goes by.

Two shoes+

There was Olivia’s black suede boot 20180627_085227Oscar chewed the toe out of when he was bored. That was on my watch, and I felt bad. It was followed by Kelsyn’s shoe losing a strap on the back. 20180628_212751I was frustrated and my patience was coming apart at the seams until I realized I only needed to be more present, to pay attention, and to outsmart the dog who was on his home turf. Closing closet doors was a simple start, and then I helped him release some anxiety and energy with outdoor play. Playtime fixed both of us.

The ex

Oh, and then there was the fantasy, if you can call it that, that my ex (and father of our three children) and I could become friends again. Ha! I thought since I was in town and had seen him in passing on a city street, that I would reach out and see if he wanted to have coffee.  The call did not go well, as I heard the same macho guy of 30 years ago tell me how busy he was but if I called back and “reminded” him, he might be able to get together in a few days. WTH?!?? I did NOT and will NOT call him back. That was not liquid gold; it was old dirty duct tape that was sticking to itself. Some things need to stay apart; that is all the reminder I needed about that.

My perspective on things has been changing ever so slightly sometimes, and other times it changes with a crash or thwack or sound of a phone call being disconnected. I like how I no longer go from 0-60 in a single second when I’m stressed. I like how I can see from multiple angles now instead of a single dimension. I like how I can observe and be able to feel the feelings I am having instead of needing to dissect an interaction.

Because…

I like how some things come apart so I can peek  inside and let the light in, let the love in, let the feelings  go where they need to go. And some things come apart so we can let the judgment out, to bring our attention where it is needed, to allow softening of rough edges.