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.

So far, so good. Kinda.

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You would not believe this day I’m having. And it’s only 12:24 p.m. (yes, the noon hour) as I start writing this. It started off well enough, and most of it has been just fine…pretty good, in fact. It’s this last hour and a half that has been unbelievable. Isn’t that the way it goes sometimes? No matter how much good we generate, we get hung up on the last worst thing. Well, I do, anyway. I’m working on trying to not judge myself so harshly, but it’s hard. Some days, it’s too hard. Like this morning. Let me tell you about it.

I awoke just before 6 a.m. to use the bathroom, which was good because that meant I pulled an all-nighter! Of course, I had a companion on my short trip, but lucky for me, Rocco (and the other two) let me climb back under the covers and take a quick nap before they demanded their own bathroom break and morning food. Anyway, it is trash day, so I had to get the bin out to the curb. After I fed the dogs, I made coffee and had my own breakfast of oatmeal and applesauce. So far, so good.

I sent a text to my sister, as I do every morning. It’s my “I’m alive so no need to worry” text that I send every day. Since I live alone except for the dogs, who have yet to learn how to send text messages or make phone calls, we have an arrangement such that if she doesn’t hear from me by about 8 a.m., she is to call a neighbor to check on me, in case I can’t wake up or tripped over a dog or fell down the stairs or something. It’s the cheap alternative to a Life Alert button. So far, so good.

I checked my Facebook feed and a few other news headlines. I wrote my three Morning Pages, a form of journaling and brain dumping, to get my mind and my soul ready for a new day. Then off to the shower, put on my face, get dressed, and make the bed. So far, so good.

The sun was shining, and after a gloomy, rainy day yesterday, I offered a quick prayer of gratitude. I know the plants and lawn were getting thirsty, so I appreciated that I didn’t have to start watering yet. Everything looks vibrant and fresh, and it smells clean and earthy outside.

A few days ago the four eggs of an Eastern Bluebird hatched, and now a pregnant iris has revealed her purple offspring, too. I love Springtime here in the Tidewater area! The azalea are blooming now that the daffodils are done, and the hostas have all woken up. I laid 50 bags of mulch last week, and a quick trip around the yard to admire my hard work convinced me to take the dogs for their morning walk. It was not quite 10 a.m. So far, so good.

Our usual route is around our Circle, which is a half mile, and then depending on the weather and what else is planned, we go another mile or so, or we go home. Today we went for the long walk, around the Circle, out to the Boulevard, and up to the Oxford village. We said hello to a few neighbors we saw, but mostly we sniffed the grass and trash bins, we checked pee-mail, and we leisurely admired the various planting styles from house to house. We returned home about 10:45, feeling invigorated. And thankful again that we live in such a beautiful neighborhood on such a fine spring day. I grabbed a smokey quartz crystal and a flourite, and I sat on the deck to meditate a few moments. So far, so good.

Sasha tried to jump up on my lap, while Bo put his paws on my left thigh, touching a tender spot where I have an old IT Band injury. As I lifted his paw off of me, I noticed that his toe nails were rather long, and his dew claws were almost sort of curling in toward themselves. And this is where “so far, so good,” became “this far, not good.”

My dogs are not fans of getting their nails trimmed. Usually I take them to a groomer to have it done because I hate doing it by myself about as much as they hate having it done. Most dogs I know, and most people I know who have dogs, agree that cutting dog nails are the WORST part of having a dog. It doesn’t matter how gentle you try to be, how much you love them, how sharp the clippers are, how fast you try to do it, how much peanut butter you bribe them with, it’s never a good time for anyone. Now, Sasha will go so far as to offer her paw up for a manicure to the groomer, but when it is me, it’s muzzle, it’s leash, it’s restraint, it’s hell. I am the one with the scars to prove it. So far, I’m anticipating more not so good.

Maybe it’s my own anxiety that comes through and causes the dogs to get uptight. I don’t know. But I do know that just because I start does not mean I will finish today. I have 12 paws to do. I might get 1 done, or maybe 4 but not on the same dog necessarily, and it might be 7 or 8, but it is never 12 on one day. For clarity, each paw has 4 nails, and then there are the dew claws, at least 2 per dog. That’s 54 nails to be trimmed. There is bound to be a bad snip here or a jagged edge there once in a while. It doesn’t matter if you use a Dremel and grind them down or a clippers or a scissors. It does help if you get the grooming clippers out and shave the hair off the paws as much as you can so you can actually see the nails, which I did. It does not help if some or all of the nails are black instead of white so you can see the quick. Which they are on Rocco. Yeah, so far, very not good.

I started with Rocco because he’s the easy one, the one most likely to be distracted by peanut butter. I shaved. I clipped one nail. He squirmed but he let me go on. I got nail two done. I got three and four done, all on the same paw, talking to him all the time. I moved on to the next paw, and easily got one nail done. This was almost too easy, but I went on to the second nail as I noticed the peanut butter was almost gone. And then I saw the blood. So not good!

I wasn’t sure where it was coming from but it was all over the mat I had on the counter. I guessed I had cut the quick, the vessel inside the nail, but I couldn’t see for sure where it was coming from – black nails and black fur and all. I reached for the small bottle of styptic powder, but it wasn’t in the basket of grooming tools. I couldn’t leave him on the counter, and I didn’t want blood on the floor. I disconnected him from the leash things and picked him up. He was still trying to finish up the peanut butter and wasn’t happy. Blood is now on my grooming smock and the sleeve of my white tee shirt. I hustled him to the laundry room where I keep the Doggy Rx Basket. I dumped everything out and grabbed the powder but there was no room to set it out and dip his toes, so back to the kitchen. He is increasingly not happy. I am not happy either. I am remorseful, berating myself for having cut him, apologizing, and getting worked up because he is now in full fledged Not Having It mode. So bad.

I held him under one arm and opened the styptic power jar, sprinkled some on the lid, and tried to dip his toes in it. I still wasn’t sure where it was coming from. Maybe I had clipped the skin instead of getting the nail too short? Crap! Now it looked like there was blood on the back leg as well. As I tried to grab the paw I had clipped nails on, the front paws sent the bottle of styptic powder flying across the counter and onto the floor. I asserted my larger physical self and forced him to the sink to rinse his paw, or paws, as the case might be. Good Lord, there was a continuous bright streak of red! Oh crap! Maybe I had really, really hurt him. Was he going to need stitches? How could I have done this? I had two more dogs to do – and half of this one yet – and I was the one who was having the meltdown now. So far, very very bad.

I apologized through my tears, and I held him tight. I grabbed a towel and swaddled him in it. He calmed down for a few seconds before he got his second wind and let me know just how furious he was. I told myself he just wanted the peanut butter, that he wasn’t actually in pain, but I don’t know that for sure. Back to the laundry room to get the doggy first-aid kit, tape and gauze. Have you ever tried to wrap up a dog’s paw when the dog was not cooperating? He may be only 8 months old but he has four feet and you only have two hands. He’s also got a mouth full of teeth, and I didn’t want to traumatize him so horribly that he got desperate and decided biting was the way to defend himself, so I wrangled him over to the dog crate and put him inside, hoping he would calm down a little., while I addressed the crime scene and got myself under control. So bad.

A glance at the clock told me it was now barely just a bit after 11. I scrubbed blood off the counter and the floor, got the peroxide and neosporin out, and gave myself a pep talk about the necessary evil of tending to his foot/feet. I went to get him from the crate only to discover the pillow, blanket, and door were covered in blood. I mean, OMG, yes, blood everywhere! I started crying again as I opened the door, and he stepped out on the oriental rug, the white part of course, with one small bloody paw. My penance. I’d have to look at it every single day if I couldn’t get that stain out, but now wasn’t the time. I had an injured baby to attend to. I debated calling the vet, and then I decided to make another attempt at stopping the apparent hemorrhage. I used a panti-liner (I had them on hand for when I had female dogs in heat) and sticky tape, followed by paper tape. It worked. Then I tackled the second paw. I still couldn’t tell if there was a nip there or not, but I plunged his nails into the recovered styptic powder. After cooing and cuddling did not work to calm him down, I gave in and offered him a half a diazapam, which is doggy valium. Really. I have had it on hand for years to give to Bo when traveling, because he sometimes gets anxious in the car. Maybe I should have taken it myself, but I had work to do yet. A half hour later he finally slowed down, and I put him another kennel to rest while I cleaned up the first one and started a load of laundry.

By now it was just about noon. I was exhausted. I cleaned up the mess, again. I ate a piece of chocolate cake. And I checked on my baby, now napping. I beat myself up for being a bad mama, a lousy groomer, an incompetent nurse. And then I realized what I was doing. I mean, I really was fully aware of the negativity I was feeding off of. Ooh, awareness is good. Okay. Yes, this is good. Now I can see my way to What Next?

I told myself that I wasn’t the first human to ever slip up and nip a dog. In fact, I had done it myself previously with another dog. That is why I had the styptic powder on hand, why I had two sets of clippers and a Dremel, why I had made myself a smock for doing the dog grooming, why I had tape and gauge and diazapam on hand. I was a prepared mom. I used to have help to do the grooming, but since Kevin passed on, I usually took them to a groomer, but these were extenuating times due to the Covid19 virus. I told myself a good mama would not want her babies’ nails to get too long and be a source of discomfort in themselves. So far, so good, again. undefined I debated about running to the pharmacy to get some new, fresh styptic powder, but I checked online first because I couldn’t find an expiration date on the bottle I had. It turns out there is no expiration date. And I learned also that styptic powder can sting a little, which might by why I got the reaction I did..if it wasn’t peanut butter envy. It turns out you can use regular flour, or cornstarch, or even baking soda (but that also could sting). The appropriate thing to do is to clean the “wound,” (which I did), to stifle the flow of blood with styptic, flour, or cornstarch (which I did), to put gauze and tape on it (which I did), and to try and calm the pet down (which I also did). I did everything right. If you don’t count cutting the quick in the first place. But nearly everyone does, professional groomers and loving parents alike. It happens, especially if you have an active puppy (which I do), who has a furry paw (which he does), and black nails (which he does). I had good intentions, and I took appropriate, quick action to fix the problem. Well then, so far, so good.

He was up for a little bit and is now napping again. Snoring, in fact. So I am going to let him be for a while before I attempt to change his dressing.

I don’t know why I do this to myself, play his nasty game of blaming myself for being the worst kind of parent, for one mistake in a long time. I can’t even remember the last time I have had this kind of mishap. It must be months. Well, I’ve had other mishaps and missteps, but I mean where I have caused an injury to someone or something else. At least this time, for the first time I think, I did not blame Kevin for not being here to help me, to hold a dog while I quickly got the job done. I did not blame the dog groomer for being closed during the pandemic we are experiencing. I did not blame the politicians for closing down businesses or ordering me to stay home. I did not blame anyone but me, and luckily, I caught myself fairly promptly. I took responsibility for myself, and for poor Rocco. I acknowledged that I am a good mama, that I had on hand what I needed to remedy the situation, and I took action. Not only that, I even corraled the other two dogs and started progress on their paws as well. It needs to be done, and I’m the one here to do it. I am extra cautious, although I may need more peanut butter soon. So far, so good.

I could have used a hug somewhere along the way, so once I was done doing what had to be done, I went out and hugged a tree. I have recovered my wits and self esteem. So far, so good. But there is a lot of daylight left….

Love in the Time of COVID19

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Disclosure: the title was co-opted from the novel Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I haven’t read it, so I don’t know if there is any other similarity to this post, but I doubt it.

So, here we are in the time of COVID19, the epidemic du jour, trying to love ourselves by staying healthy and unexposed to the virus, or at least not be carriers if we have some strain of it without knowing, trying to be kind to ourselves even when stressed, to love our friends despite self isolation, to love our communities despite social distancing requirements, and to love our families by staying at home. It’s a tall order. Very tall.

As a widow of now five+ years, I might be better able to deal with the isolation and distancing aspects than some others. I am used to being alone, comfortable with the quietness and some time on my hands. I’ve even saved a few dollars mostly because I am not buying gas to go somewhere and I am cooking at home instead of eating out. That’s not to say I am immune from meltdowns. I had one just yesterday. I find that writing helps me air out my negative thoughts and stirs my creativity, so I decided I’d share with you how I am getting through this rough patch we are all having to deal with.

1. Staying home, or self isolating, does not mean you have to stop all contact with everyone. I am thankful for unlimited minutes and no long-distance charges on my cell phone. (Remember when you had to call after 11 pm on the weekend in order to afford a call with your sister in a different time zone?) I wish I had unlimited data, but that’s another story. Anyway, I talk on the phone A LOT. The other day my friend Rosanne (in Minnesota) and I (in Virginia) had a 3-hour conversation over our individual coffee. I call my kids, some more than once. I text one of my sisters every single day to let her know I am fine. I have reached out to my niece Vanessa, my friend Josie, my neighbor Betty, and even former colleagues from those Good Ol’ Days. I have face-timed and Zoomed and waved from the window. If you’ve got Cabin Fever already, get in touch. It’s not the same as being with them, but it’s not bad.

2. The ripple effect of this virus extends to the economy and outward to the stock market. Where your (and my) retirement funds are waiting. Don’t look at your portfolio right now. No good can come of it. It will only depress you and speed up the meltdown. Ask me how I know! As my friend Marla said, something only has value when you sell it, so if you’re not selling right now, don’t borrow trouble. Of course, if you are “selling,” or in my case, drawing on those funds now, then it’s a bit of a different impact. My friend Phyllis reminded me of things I can’t control. So today I am working on finding other things to think about besides the possibility I won’t be able to eat out as much in 10 years as I do now. The things I can control are things like the level of exercise I give the dogs and myself, the cleanliness of my home, the information diet I consume, the rest I get. That’s good enough.

3. The stay-at-home orders mean a bit of bonus time on our hands. For me, that’s time I’m not shopping, for example. I have decided it is a good time to tap into higher creativity. Aside from glamping up my camper, I am reading new authors (Chinua Achebe) with new characters (a strong African man whose life is dominated by fear and anger) interspersed with my usual fare (a Kathleen Woodiwiss bodice ripper and aching loins saga). I am experimenting in the kitchen, baking quiche with pie crusts I made from scratch the other day; today I am going to try pistachio and chocolate biscotti).

4. Playing games with myself (not THOSE kinds!). I mean when you are running low on chocolate, which may be a necessity but by itself is not enough of a call to venture out to the grocery store, look around in that cupboard. I discovered I have cocoa powder, chocolate-flavored almond bark, and chocolate protein drinks on hand. By the time my Andes’ Mints run out (I only allow myself 2 per day, and I have 2 days’ worth left), I will have made my chocolate dipped chocolate and pistachio biscotti! I’m trying to see how long I can go in between visits to the grocery store. Today is day 6. My goal is two weeks because I have a pretty well-stocked pantry and freezer, but I’m lazy sometimes, so I’m going to call it good if I make it 10 days. So far I just haven’t felt like tater-tot hot dish or tuna casserole. I have taken a turkey out of the freezer, and I’ll probably be able to roast that tomorrow. Then I’ll have leftovers for a LONG time…at least long enough to get me to the 10 day mark, if not all 14.

5. Being thankful and mindful. As dismal as things seem, there is much to appreciate. I am so fortunate that my self-imposed quarantine site is a big house in a great neighborhood where Spring has arrived. I have a 401K to worry about and am paying my bills with a little cash left over each month. I have friends who check in on me and who I can call on just to catch up with whenever I want. I have 3 snuggle pups with amazing antics that keep me smiling. I get to practice building patience and compassion every day, so I can become a better version of me. As hard as it is, I remind myself that This Too Shall Pass.

I am actually looking forward to the world pushing the Reset Button on priorities and values. I wish the cost wasn’t so high, but I suppose that it’s gotten this way because we let it. I’ve let got of so many things in my life, a marriage that turned sour, a career that ended, a husband who died, a dream here or there that didn’t work out, among others. I know that life goes on. We change because we want to, even when it seems like life is doing things to us. We are all doing our best with what we know, or least I am, and I think most of us are. I am happening to life; life is not happening to me. So I am going to keep on keeping on, just following my heart, loving myself as much as I can. I hope you do, too.

A Few Good Men

I’ve belong to a few groups on Facebook especially set up for camping, with names like solo campers, 50’s & Over, and wandering women. I’ve also joined one called rvers, and something like roadtrippers. Today there was a post on another group by someone who talked about a male camper she had just met who creeped her out by asking a lot of personal questions. Maybe there was more to the story that she didn’t tell. Anyway, I was shocked by the “support” she got from so many other women who had to share horror stories of their own. You now might think that all male campers are weirdos or psychos, or that the world is so very unsafe that we should stay home and lock ourselves in and away from it all.

Those comments said as much about the storyteller as about the other characters or the interaction itself. I felt sad to think that there were so many walking wounded, or angry, hurt, and scared people. It’s one thing to look for support or guidance or to give warning. It’s another to employ scare tactics or bash someone (or a class of someones) because of a victim mentality or exaggerate to gain attention. It was difficult to read. I could grow a little seed of fear since I camp solo from time to time; instead, I choose to celebrate a few good men, on behalf of all the other good men.

I don’t think it’s because I am in any way desensitized to these kinds of things. I’ve work in the legal/judicial field all of my adult life. I have heard true stories that can’t be matched by amateurs. But more than that, I think it’s because I trust my own experiences of this world over that of someone else, even if they really believe their version of whatever they are telling me. If my own experience is different, then that is what I know to be true. I know – it can be challenging to change my opinions when necessary, but I always start from the point of what is true for me.

As a woman “solowingnow,” I’m sure I could be excused for feeling vulnerable or withdrawing into a very tight niche. I spend a fair amount of time by myself. I don’t think that makes me gullible. Rather, it has made me aware, of my surroundings, of my own limits, of the value of another person.

I know at least a few good men, starting with my sons.

My boys before they were men

My sons (including my son-in-law) are good parents. They are responsible and law abiding and funny and loving and helpful and productive and thoughtful and smart and generous. They aren’t perfect, but they are awesome, and they learn and they grow and they try. They are confident without being arrogant; they are courageous without taking stupid risks; they are creative at living while doing what needs to be done. I have no reason to believe my grandson won’t carry on these fine qualities.

I have a good brother, too. He has figured out how to not fix things when I call in tears, and to just listen.

My baby brother

But when I do need things fixed, he picks up a screwdriver and flashlight or a chain saw. When I need to worry and say things out loud to make sense of them, he listens and waits for me to give him the green light to talk, and then he says “I’ve got your back.” We don’t always agree, so we’ve learned to disagree with respect.

Of course, I had a great husband, and actually two great husbands but the first one was only great for a while and then he wasn’t so great, so I consider him my starter husband. He wasn’t him all bad all the time. My second husband, though, he was a real keeper.

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Kevin teaching Vaughn about fish cleaning

He had a way of smiling so that you knew he felt it all the way to his bones. He was as gentle as they come when it came to holding babies and playing with puppies and baking pies. He never tried to force his opinions on me (or anyone else), and he was patient, and shy, and appreciative. He couldn’t keep a dollar in his pocket, and he had some kind of damn bad luck with boats and docks on fishing opener, but he was comfortable in his own skin and liked his own company. I trusted him with my life.

I worked with some great guys over the years, too. There was an attorney boss who helped me study for a paralegal certification exam. The director who made a call to put things in motion when I was only getting stalled. Another attorney who nominated me for Legal Secretary of the Year (I won, by the way). The judge who still sends me Christmas cards more than 10 years after he retired. The colleague who invited me to co-present at a conference so we could both get some national experience. The one a few steps away on the org chart who went out of his way to come to Kevin’s funeral a few years after we both had gone on to other jobs. The neighbor who shovels my walk when it snows, and the one who cares for his wife in a Memory Care Facility twice a day, every day, and the one who fostered and then adopted two brothers, and the one who taught me to drive a motorcycle, and the ones who help me back my camper in at the campground, and the one who helped my friend push her dead car out of the traffic, and the one who shares joy by dressing as Santa Claus and distributing toys on his motorcycle, and the one who takes pride in helping newbie public speakers practice their speeches, and the one who teaches self defense to women, and … and … and …. so many more.

I know some jerks and liars and cheats and condescending animals, too, of both the male and female variety. I’m not naive; I’ve got my own sob stories and tall tales. There are some people I avoid, some I am wary of, and some I tolerate. And some I love. But what I don’t do is lump them all in the same basket and consider them ALL bad apples.

I am glad that women are engaged and informed and that they find reasonable opportunities to express their views openly. I wish it could be without attacking or antagonizing – and yes, offending. I do feel offended when the men in my life are defenseless against this infectious, unfocused, unbridled anger.

So today I am standing up for not just the few good men in my life, but the ones in your lives, and everywhere. When I was raising my boys, I used to say that I couldn’t show my boys how to be men exactly, but I could show them how to respect themselves and others. When I was dating, I would ask myself if I would want my children to be like this man. And now as a widow, I say this prayer: God, please help me help myself, so I can help others help themselves.

I’d sure like it if you would tell me about a good man, or a few good men, that you know! Please comment below. Let’s share the goal of spreading some civility today.

Smoking Gun (..or oven) Clue

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Wouldn’t it be something if this was a scratch-n-sniff blog? Then you could not only see the snapshots or interpret the words you are reading, but you could really jump into the scene you are imagining based on those pictures and words. A video would help if there was a sound – and there was – but given the situation, it would have bordered on reckless to take the time to track down my phone, find the camera app, and record the chaos. I couldn’t even capture the hazy scene of the crime.

You see, last night I had a little situation thing happen. But let me back up a few steps and set the stage, so you can get the full impact. When was the last time you did something for the first time? I don’t mean you bought a new something or other, or even that you tasted something different. No, I mean that you DID, you experienced, you engaged yourself fully into a new activity. Can you remember? As grievers especially, it can be very difficult to even think of such a thing; it is so much easier to pretend we can stop all the change going on around us. So we keep the status quo. Of course, the more time that has passed, the more likely you are to agree or give in and try something new. Which I did.

It has been five years for me. I think I have done a pretty bitchin’ job at active grieving, and I have tried and tried and tried things. But mostly I have tried again things I already know or knew how to do. I used to ride motorcycle, so I rode around town. I used to paint furniture, so I up-cycled a gun cabinet. I used to do puzzles, so I opened a new box. In the past year, though, I have really opened myself to living life in full bloom. I have taken my camper halfway across the country – twice in one summer! I have ripped up old, ratty carpet and laid (peel and stick) tile to freshen my closet. And I have learned to make a pie from scratch, crust included. That’s where this story picks up.

On my annual List of 101 Things I Want To Do In My Life, making a flaky pie crust has shown up since about 1991. Yes, really. Along with learning to drive a motorcycle (check), visiting Italy (check), completing my college degree (check, check), somewhere on the list was making a pie crust. Ha! The Bucket List movie has nothing on me!! One day I asked my friend Dee if she would show me how because she makes a great crust. She said yes, and I got my lesson.

I brought the ingredients to make an apple pie. She somehow thought I had done all this before, but Kevin was the pie baker in our house. I occasionally made a quiche using a store-bought Pillsbury crust, which frankly, is nothing to write about. What I mean to say is that Dee did not “correct” or “advise” me about the small, thin pieces of apple I was slicing being too small and thin; she thought I knew what I was doing. As you might guess, she did guide me every step of the way on the crust, which turned out great, and I ended up with applesauce pie! This was back in early December.

Since I was going to stay home for the holidays, Dee invited me to her house for Christmas dinner. When I asked what I could bring, she told me to bring a pie, since I now knew how to make one. Great! Fabulous! If I waited too long between the lesson and doing it on my own, it might not “take.” I was happy to oblige. So I made the crust and put it in the freezer for the time when I was going to make the pie.

This time I cut thick chunks of apple, mixed it with a little flour, cinnamon and sugar, and dotted it with butter. I had a fat, tall hunk of pie ready for the oven. The crust sealed well, I poked a few slits in the top, and in she went to the oven. I even put a cookie sheet below it to catch any juices that might overflow. (Which meant that the pie was not on the lowest shelf of the oven, the cookie sheet was. If you, too, are not an experienced pie baker, this will be important later.)

My Christmas Pie

I baked it the required amount of time according to Betty Crocker and my friend Dee. The top of the pie looked lovely.

The bottom didn’t look like it was brown enough. I didn’t want applesauce again, so I removed the cookie sheet, thinking it was dispersing the heat that would cause the crust to bake fully. And the crust became golden like I wanted, just as the juices snuck out of the slits on top and flowed to the bottom of the oven.

You now know where this is going; that scratch-n-sniff reference above is making sense. The pie looked (and tasted) awesome; it was a novice’s dream come true. I was proud to take it to Christmas dinner. I would deal with the oven mess later.

Yesterday was the day to do that dealing. It was near 70 outside, so I could open the windows and let fresh air in. Except I didn’t remember I was going to do it until about 6 pm last night. When it wasn’t still 70; it was more like 50 after the sun went down.

I have a self-cleaning feature on my stove, as well as a steam cleaning one. I don’t know what the difference is. I don’t use the oven much, and certainly not for pies that can overflow and cause hard meteorite-like, volcanic-rock bombs on the floor of the oven. Kevin was the oven user, and he took care of any messes like this, if there were any, which I don’t remember. In the five years he has been gone, this was the first need for cleaning.

I hit the button for Self Clean, and I heard the click as the oven door locked itself from the inside apparently. I headed to the family room to watch a movie while Mr. Oven did his magic. Only what Mr. Oven did was cough and spew out smoke, like the flue on the fireplace wasn’t open or something. Within 10 minutes, the kitchen was full of smoke. I smelled it first, and then was shocked to see the cloudiness in the kitchen. I quickly ran and turned the stove hood vent on high. I opened the window over sink. Whew! That was odd, I thought. I didn’t realize the apple pie syrupy drops would or could generate this much smoke.

How much smoke, you ask? Enough to now set off the smoke detector. The dogs started barking, and I rushed to open the dining room door to the deck. Out went all three dogs while I grabbed a step stool to reach the detector to shut it off. Which, of course, it would not do. So just before I was going to rip it off the wall, I got the battery compartment door open and took out the battery. But I am lucky to be so safe; the stupid thing is hard wired, and the battery is apparently just a back-up measure in case the electricity fails. Mercifully, I managed to push something that made it stop. Sweet Jesus, I was exhausted and my own ears were ringing. Dogs were nowhere in sight.

I put a small table-top fan on the stove to help direct the exhaust out the kitchen window. That didn’t do enough, so I set a floor fan on top of the counter to blow the smoke out the back door.

It turns out that smoke itself is not hot the way flames are. It was rapidly cooling down in the house. I called the dogs back inside, and the two small ones came in. Bo, though, got close enough to smell the putrid air and turned back to the yard. Commanding him didn’t work, and neither did the biscuit bribe. I had to go grab him and carry him inside.

The smoke was dissipating, ever so slowly, so I didn’t want to close the door yet. I placed a chair in front of it, and Bo immediately saw his chance to escape and took it. I retrieved him once more, and propped a laundry basket he couldn’t jump over in the doorway, supported by the chair and blocked with another stool. It was only a half hour of chaos, yet seemed like all night long. If I had a scratch-n-sniff blog, you could smell the dead pie drippings and know exactly how my night went. According to the timer on the stove, the magic Self Cleaning would be done in another 3 hours and 16 minutes. Oh joy!

It finally did what it had to do, and turned itself off. I could not make myself look inside. It obviously had to be more than just the few little droplets of sugar that I imagined. I would deal with the fallout later. Later seems to be my modus operandi lately.

This morning when I knew with absolute certainty that the over was cool to the touch, I dared to open the door. It turns out the oven is not exactly sparkly clean as I imagined it would be. There are piles of ash to be wiped out, and the door glass is kind of streaky, with brownish stripes running down it. But it will be ready to use again once I wipe it down…I hope. Which is good, since for a Christmas gift Dee gave me a set of single-serving dishes so I can make individual pies. Now six pies can drip at one time instead of one. More joy. (Next time I am going to try that Steam Clean option.)

Anyway, there is an interesting lesson in all this. In the past few years, I would have blamed Kevin for this mess, after I stopped crying. Because he should be here to make the pies so I wouldn’t have made the pie in the first place, never mind that I had the making of a pie crust on my List for at least 10 years before I even met him. I would have felt anger that he didn’t at least cosmically guide me to use foil instead of a cookie sheet to catch any drips, so I could have had a golden crust AND a mess I could have thrown away. I would have contemplated selling the house to avoid having to clean the oven… or at least swore I would never use the oven again if it was going to cause the smoking catastrophe.

But I didn’t. Instead, I was reminded of this quote. It’s the tiniest bit out of context but so relevant here. Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist’s Way:

The truth of life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight.

I found delight in my situation. It did not even occur to me to blame Kevin, nor to feel sorry for myself. I accepted all the responsibility; I even laughed at the Keystone Cops similarity of getting the smoke out while keeping the dogs in. And I’m already looking forward to doing it again, better, because I want to make a quiche for dinner tonight. That, my friends, is proof positive that I am in full healing mode.

How are you doing? I’d like to know.