The Second Hurdle

That mountain looked mighty big. In fact, it looked plain mighty. It was rumored that a rookie motorcyclist of less than a year’s experience was going to attempt crossing the Beartooth Pass in Montana. Sixty-eight miles of windy, curvy roads, and the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies. It is heralded as one of the most scenic Beartooth mapdrives in the U.S., but I don’t know how anyone who was driving would be able to see anything but the road in front of her. I didn’t.

It was July but we were pulled over to dress warmer in our leather coats, gloves, and balaclavas. Was it true that there was still snow at the top? We: my friend Janet and her husband Troy, who both had been driving motorcycles for 30 years. Pat beartooth pass groupMy brother Jeff, who had been driving at least 20 years but this was his first big road trip. My husband Kevin, who had been driving since he was in high school. And me, that scared rookie.

Curves are hard enough, but managing the climbing speed on the Montana side, and then the downhill control on the Wyoming side meant finessing the clutch, the accelerator, and brakes while keeping the 658# bike upright. Though possible snow.  What was I thinking?!?

We decided I should go first so I could set the pace. I would be followed by Jeff, then Troy and Janet, with Kevin last. I believe in following speed limit signs, even on a motorcycle, especially on the curves. They were all so patient and encouraging I didn’t have the heart to tell them I wanted to  change my mind. Plus, I knew we were almost 600 miles from home, and either they went over without me and I drove back home alone, or they had to forfeit the trip. Sometimes it’s good to have that kind of motivation. Of course, I knew they would never have agreed to this in the first place if they – the experienced ones – didn’t believe I could do it safely. Umm, did I say this was my idea?

Holding a big bike upright is a lot easier if you are going faster rather than slower. I already knew this from the 1000 miles of practice I had in the previous months. Still, I wasn’t going to do anything stupid. And so we pulled back onto the road, with me in the lead, at about 25 mph. The first couple of miles were fine, like riding the Black Hills of South Dakota, and I relaxed a little. I had done this before, and I could do it again. But as we climbed, I started praying, “Oh, God; oh, God; oh God!!”

Troy zoomed by me. Then Janet. I started to sweat and feel like I was out of my league. They were out of sight, around a turn to the right. I made that turn and found myself in a topless tunnel of snow with walls almost 20’ high and a blue sky overhead. Up ahead on the side of the road I saw Troy, crouching down with a camera in his hands, ready to get my picture as I drove through the Pass. Janet was right there ahead of me; she pulled off on the slim shoulder but there was no room for me.

pat-beartooth-snow-tunnel-e1525101106515.jpg

yes, it was July 16 – Janet on yellow bike, me in pink coat behind

I kept going. All by myself; I didn’t see anyone in my rearview mirror. Around the next curve, and the next one. No one ahead of me. Then there was a large pull-off area next to a snow field. I made it safely and parked my bike. I realized how cool and windy it was but I was too hyped to be cold. Kevin and Jeff were suddenly beside me, smiling big goofy smiles, feeling the freedom and the accomplishment. I started crying. pat kevin snowThe stress and the excitement and the relief washed over me. I had done it. Sort of – I had to get down the other side yet, but still, this was something amazing I had done. I was staying between the mountain and the wild blue yonder.We made it down the Wyoming side without incident, although there was a bad accident we had to drive by. I chose not to look but the others said there was a mangled motorcycle on the side of the road beyond the ambulance and cop cars.

At dinner that night, Janet presented me with a small sign:

I never doubted that I could do it. The question was whether I would do it. It’s one thing to know something intellectually, and it’s another to feel the feelings of fear, then step into that fear and do whatever it is anyway. If you’re like me, you play Devil’s Advocate with yourself, imagining all the What-Ifs that could happen, judging yourself before you even try. But I know the antidote for fear is preparation, followed by action. When you are tempted to let fear shut you down, remember that developing any skill is a process. If you try, you evolve. Good habits make us better; bad habits help us get worse. Understanding the situation from all sides is prudent. Having a back-up plan is responsible. A little teensy bit of fear is maybe a good thing – it keeps you alert and aware.

I have been known to ask myself, “I wonder what I would be capable of if I just would apply myself?” That’s not fear speaking; that’s laziness! I do enough to get by sometimes, and then I feel the sorrow of not having really tried. What has been working for me lately is the mantra that It’s my time to become the solution. I have shifted my mindset, to feel the fear and do it anyway, or to just get off my butt and do it anyway..

I sold Kevin’s bike a year after he died. Mine has been sitting in the garage ever since, waiting for the time I feel like riding again.  It’s not doubt or fear that keeps me away. It just doesn’t feel the same without him. I had taken it out a few times that first summer after he passed, but that fire has gone out.  I know I could if I wanted to, I just don’t.

I’m thinking I might sell it and buy a convertible instead.

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3 Hurdles to Overcome

“Higher! Higher!” I remember hearing the voices in my head when I was in high school and wanted to run hurdles on the track and field team. If I could just reach my leg a little higher, stretch my stride a little longer, I’d find the rhythm that would make hurdling easier. Alas, a toe would drift down and graze the top of the hurdle, I’d stumble or knock it over, and occasionally I’d hit the ground. It didn’t register then that I wasn’t as tall as some of the other girls who more easily glided over the course, and my legs might never give me the clearance I’d need.

track ribbonsAnyway, I turned to sprinting, minus hurdles, and I managed to secure a spot on the relay team that had some success and  made it all the way to Regional competition. I was no Olympic wanna-be; I just wanted to belong and do something I was good at.relay pins

“You’re a runner; you can do this! No.  It hurts. I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner. I can’t breathe. Yes, you can do this. Just a little more. This is crazy. Who cares about a stupid record?” And because I kept up the conversation in my head and didn’t stop running, when I was in the U.S. Army’s Basic Training, I completed a 2 mile run within time and captured a record, a big one. I was the first woman EVER to get a perfect score of 500 on the Physical Training (PT) test.Army 500 I happened to be in the last class of the Women’s Army Corps before it was absorbed into the regular Army, so, I guess my record stands.

Much has changed in the past 40+ years, at least as far as athletic accomplishment goes . I couldn’t jump over a hurdle now if my life depended on it, and sprinting around a cinder track would most likely take half a day and hurt a lot. I kept up the longer-distance running for a while because it turned out I liked the moderately slower pace and the feel of being healthy and limber, but I let a marriage, three kids, and a full time job get in the way of my routine. Now I’m happy if I can stroll around the neighborhood with the dogs without getting worn out.

But I have – fortunately – learned a few things along the way, three lessons that have stood the test of time and now serve as nudges when I get stuck in a rut or completely run out of air. I was reminded of them the other night when I heard Greg Lilly, a local author and publisher, speak about how writers can get moving again if they are feeling unproductive or blocked, but they apply to most efforts to finish something we have started (or get started at all).  They are the lessons of managing Time, overcoming Doubt, and finding Inspiration. In this post, I’ll talk about time, and I’ll cover the other two in future posts. Time is the biggie for me, even though I’m no longer tied down to a full-time job outside the house. I still have plenty to do with volunteerism and a menagerie of dogs to love, but solidly managing my calendar to allow writing time trips me up sometimes. Wait til you read about the solution below!

Time

I am usually amused when someone says they don’t have time to do something. We all know we have the same amount of time, so what they are really saying is that the something is not a priority. When we don’t want to do it, we fudge a little and blame it on the thing we all relate to: not enough time. Just yesterday I canceled a coffee meeting with someone I had recently met at a networking meeting. Rather than talk about my business, I realized that he was trying to sell me some kind of insurance when he sent me a video the night before and asked that I watch it in advance of our meeting. I copped out just a little – I sent a text instead of calling him, but in my defense, he sent the video by text also. Anyway, I told him it would be a waste of his time and mine, since I wasn’t interested in the insurance product, and I canceled the meeting. I have to admit it felt good to be honest (I could have said my dog got sick or something). And it felt freeing, because this was now “found” time I could use for writing.

Discipline v. Commitment

Writers, like other artists and creatives  I suppose, like to use the word “discipline.,” We way we “just aren’t disciplined,” or “I need some self discipline.” What  it comes down to is really just  putting our butts in the chair and getting to the  business of writing. But I like how  Julia Cameron referred to this in her book The Right to Write. She said that people think they have to be disciplined, which in itself has a negative or strict connotation. What we need instead, she says, is to make a commitment, and then we will find the time. “Commitment” is a choice, which is a positive spin, which is motivating. Tomato — to-mah-toe? I am on the side of commitment.

Newton v. Einstein

Another take on this issue of having enough time comes from  a fascinating read by Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap. He says that time is a paradigm, or set of beliefs, we hold and that there are two views on this.  There is the Newtonian paradigm (from Isaac Newton) which says there is only a finite amount of time. We have to be careful with how we spend it so there is enough time to do…what we want to do, what we need to do, before it runs out, since we can’t make more time.

Unless we can. The solution to this, the other paradigm, is Einstein Time (yes, Albert Einstein). Hendricks suggests Einstein had a new way of “being with time” that lets us get more done in less time and helps us enjoy plenty of time to discover and express our abilities and feel good at the same time. Einstein time gives us a way to expand time, if we allow ourselves to become the source of time and slow things down. Essentially, we have to change our thinking to taking full ownership of time.

Sometimes I get it, this idea…and sometimes I am confused and skeptical and … you know what I mean, you’re probably feeling that way right now, too. I can’t discount it completely because  I have been able to stretch time on occasion, but to consciously slow things down so there is enough time to get things done; I have to think about this. Time has stood still for me on occasion, and I have had the experience of time flying (like those last 40 years). I really have to get my mind around this concept, though.

In sum, Lilly’s advice is consistent with Cameron and Hendricks. We “find” time for what we have decided is important to us, and we do that by claiming it and staking our ground. Maybe we shut ourselves away in a room or leave the house to do what we “need” to do. Maybe we trick ourselves by setting a deadline. Offering rewards to myself doesn’t work for me because I’ll just go ahead and get what I want anyway if I want it enough, but it might work for you. The big idea here is to drop the guilt about spending time doing what we love to do. And engaging in that act of creation or whatever, being in that moment, giving ourselves permission to do this is a way to overcome the hurdle of time.

Since I’ve been “solowing,” my time paradigm really has changed, and I’m much more aware of and respectful of time. While we like to say “we never know how much time we have” in terms of life expectancy, I know this to be true. So I have shuffled my priorities, discarded some projects or responsibilities, made time for others. It’s possible I am shifting from Newtonian time to Einstein time! In any event, I value time now in a way that keeps me from getting blocked or stuck. I take my commitments seriously, and I don’t make  appointments that will be a waste of time.  If you have a time-saving tip, if you have experience with expanding time, if you have a story to tell about when the time was just right, please share! It might help me and others to make shifts in our thinking.

In my next post, I will touch on the hurdle of doubt and fear. I hope you’ll check back for that soon. That one is a huge one in terms of making it to the finish line of achieving our goals.

 

The Things We Keep

I want to tell you about my friend Jackie,

jackienme

Last summer at the Eastern Shore

who moved about three months ago from Virginia to Pennsylvania, which is  home to her even though she has lived here for 16 years. Isn’t that how it goes sometimes….you live somewhere, with friends and furniture and fun memories, but those fixtures are not enough to ease the longing for that place we call home, that sense of truly belonging, with the people we love most, trying to fill the void that can’t be appeased with all the stuff we have accumulated.

 

Jackie had spent nearly a full month culling out the things she no longer wanted or needed (an exercise could all benefit from if we had the motivation she does). She had a yard sale, then donated several boxes to a local charity, and even gave some things away (I got 2 plants and Pampered Chef pitcher!). She sorted and saved, wrapped and rewrapped,  packed and  piled her things to keep and to let go of. She started out quite deliberately, and then as the time of leaving got closer (and as friends were more objective than she), released some things to make room for the new life she was curating.

I went to help her or hang out a few different times. I admit I was a little jealous of the wide-open, fresh-start future awaiting her. She returned home, but I don’t know where my “home” is. Her roots go deep; mine go wide. Her parents live in the house she grew up in; not only are my parents both deceased, but my closest sibling to my home town is nearly 100 miles from there. She had a plan; I feel  adrift most days. She is single, never married, no kids (but 2 adorable dogs); I am solo, hundreds of miles from my nearest sister and thousands of miles from my three kids and five grandkids, still occasionally overcome with memories and dreams of a life that has been short-circuited. Of course, I am happy for her, and truth to told, I am not unhappy with my own choices to stay put and wait for inspiration.

It was interesting to peek into the pieces of her life as we packed and rummaged through closets and arranged the stuff that makes up her. I was reminded of how I painstakingly went through each and every single item that was Kevin’s after he died, which has taken me most of three years to do. And I couldn’t help but think as I drove away from Jackie’s what it would (a) take to divest myself of my stuff to make yet another move and (b) for my kids to someday have to go through this exercise without me. Except for the “crap” (as Kevin would call it) in my Diva Den, which is all my crafting/sewing/painting/unused exercise stuff, I think I don’t have all that much that would cause them to ask “WTH was she thinking?!??  It may not all be necessary, but it’s comforting and meaningful, and it reflects me.

So back to Jackie. One 30-something aged woman, two dogs. A yard sale, a donations pile, a large trash bin. A 20′ U-Haul, a car trunk, and a full SUV. Full of energy and optimism. Kevin went quietly and quickly, without a dime, nor a pair of shoes on his I-hate-bare-feet, nor his glasses to see where he was going, a book for while he was waiting at the Pearly Gates, not even a pair of pants or even his own toga! He left behind friends, memories, and a garage and one attic full of just his stuff. That’s the way to go, I guess.  If prepping and packing and purging weren’t so dramatic and draining, I might consider it myself. If I knew where to go. So I’d know what to keep and what to let go of.

Once I had to make a bottom-line decision about what to keep. It’s like those people who face evacuation from a raging fire or a hurricane. My house was in imminent danger of flooding (Moorhead MN, April 1997). I was going to have to leave. I told my boys to pack up a suitcase each with enough clothes for a week, and I had friends clean out the refrigerator and freezer. I took my box of important papers and a stack of photo albums (yeah, it was before the digital age). And we drove  away. It was not hard in that moment to prioritize my valuables. I was mentally prepared to completely start over if I had to.

What is hard is going down Memory Lane, taking detours, reliving every significant moment, touching your past, and deciding what things to keep. Is the apron my great-grandmother crocheted important enough? What about my favorite book(s)? The wedding dress? The pottery collection? How about those red plates I got a second job for so I could afford them? The basket of old love letters and other memorabilia from school days or between-husbands days? The 60 or so dragonflies that adorn my walls? My $300 leather planner? Oh, and the painting I commissioned of the adobe wall and the hollyhocks? I love that painting. The curio cabinet Kevin gave me for Christmas? The sleigh bed I always wanted and now have? The cedar chest or what’s in it?

How much of all the stuff I have is “valuable” because of the joyful experience I had acquiring it rather than any monetary merit? What is replaceable, if I could afford to buy it new? What have I forgotten that I even had, so therefore should be willing to not keep  any longer?

I have moved at least a dozen times in my adult life. For about the last three times, I’ve said This is the Last Time! And yet, I don’t think it is. Above all, what I want to keep is my sense of self, the Me I’ve become in the past three years, while keeping the Me I was that made me who I am. Kevin’s death forced me to face the reality that life is short and so should be really lived, not endured. Helping Jackie prepare for her move showed me that while it is work, it is work worth doing to dream up new dreams and chase them down.

Another thing Jackie’s leaving has taught me is about the impact on others that you are in a relationship with. Usually it is me who does the leaving. Those dozen moves were all me driving down the highway. But this time Kevin left, and I stayed. Last year my next-door neighbors Richard and Rosie moved across town, and I stayed. Buddy died, and I am here. Now Jackie is off to Pennsylvania, and I’m still here. Maybe I’m still here because it is my time to understand how it feels when someone else leaves and I stay. Maybe what I need to keep now is my compassion and my generosity of spirit in helping others  … helping raise grandkids? Helping them to be curious about life, to go exploring, to have adventures, to make memories. To know that even when someone leaves, it’s not about you; it’s about them. To know that life goes on and relationships can still continue and thrive. That the things we keep are up to us, whether it’s a memory, an artifact, a secret, a friendship.

Jackie is coming back here for a visit, and I’m happy to report we’ll be spending some time together. We’ve managed to stay in touch by phone, text, and Facebook, so it won’t be awkward to pick up where we left off. I remember what I used to sing as a Girl Scout when I was younger:

chloechewie

Chloe                     Chewie

Make new Friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others gold.

 

(Shout out for Jackie’s two dogs, Chloe and Chewie who have their own blog at http://chloeandchewie.wordpress.com, and a facebook page at Life Adventures of Chloe & Chewie.)

The Right to Write

I have a long To Do list that keeps growing. I have found it difficult to say No and volunteered my time for more things than usual. Plus I’m actively trying to promote the Author Academy I’m going to start with a business partner, Dawn. That was supposed to start February 6 but we postponed it to get more registrations, so what I would have done a month ago I’m working on now. I’m also on the board for my homeowner’s association (president, no less) and agreed to do two no-fee presentations in March. Uff-da!

So I have plenty I should be working on, and instead, I’m choosing to write this blog post and work on some other writing, too. It feels like a bit of an indulgence, a bit selfish. But really, I have the right to write. Unlike other entitlements that infringe on someone else, this is my decision about how to spend my time, and it is guilt-free (and calorie free, I might add!). Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write, and The Artist’s Way, and other books, says so, too, so that’s more validation than I even need but I’m happy to have it.

permission-card.jpgPLUS, I found this old card in my desk! I used to give these out to staff when I was an administrator, to empower them, in a way, to take risks and to not wait for me all the time to say “okay” to something.

Why do we do this, this denial of the things we like to do? The floor needs cleaning, the dogs need walking, the bills need paying, the programs need development. And here I sit, happily clicking away on the keyboard for a change. It’s been weeks since I’ve worked on my book, and I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it’s been since I wrote in my journal.

Today is a good day for writing, just because I decided it is.  A writer should write. And  a dancer should dance, and a cook should cook, and a teacher should teach, and doers should do. Because doing is how we honor our being. I’m not saying we need to be doing all the time, busy for the sake of business. I’m saying that we should do what makes us feel good about who we are. We must take time for filling up. You know that saying, you never miss the water til the well runs dry? Okay, so if we don’t fill our well, we will also dry out, and we will miss ourselves and shrivel up.

Interestingly enough, I have trouble sometimes declaring myself to be a writer. Earlier this week I was having breakfast out with two of my friends. One had been commenting about my blog and how much she was enjoying it. The other wanted to know why she didn’t know about my blog. That lead to the first one encouraging me to do more writing. Then I got what she called the God Wink.

Another customer sitting a few booths away from our table overheard us and came over. She asked if we were writers, and my two friends immediately pointed at me and said, “She is.”  The woman said she had a story that needed to be told but this wasn’t the place to talk about it. She mentioned she has friends who are writers but she can’t tell them this story, and would I be interested in talking to her more? I gave her my card, and she left. Now, I don’t know if this is a common thing that happens to writers where other people either want to tell you their story or want you to help them write it. Either way, it felt really, really good to have others call me a writer, to accept that myself, and have the woman look at me with respect and interest. So call this a God Wink, or a sign, or whatever you want. I’m calling it good!

I have collected other people’s writing in the form of books, quotes, books, posters, and more books. The current situation involves 6 bookcases and 2 stacks bedside. I’ve discovered that it’s not just the physical object I’m collecting, and it’s not just the ideas I want to learn from, and it’s not just the sense of place that I can escape to. It is all that, but more than that, it’s validation that writing and writers matter. That writing is legitimate,  lending credibility and permission to myself to do what looks like nothing but is, in fact, a very good expression of who I am. Even if no one ever reads what I write – although you are proof that some of my writing gets read by people other than myself, and the magazines with my name in them are proof, too.

It’s my ego that gets in my way most times. She resists my writing, I think, when she suggests that I am wasting my time or when she discourages me to appreciate what I have written. I’m getting better at recognizing this, and when I do, I try to shift my thinking. It’s sometimes hard to remain faithful to what I believe in, what reflects my authentic self. I torment myself with fear that I am not producing any income, for example, and that I should go get a “real” job, and then I move into “fight or flight” mode. I start to live in the past, to worry about the future, and shove away the idea that I can be this person who creates through writing.

Today is that kind of day, though, when I feel the need to empty my thoughts and ideas onto the page so I have room for more of thoughts and ideas. Today I am ignoring Ego and honoring my Spirit. I am grateful for all the gifts I have been given, including the gift of connection with my Higher Self. I am going to tune in to a higher channel with better reception. I’m not blowing off reality; I am blowing off the Ego’s need for control. And that is freeing.

You, too, have this right to write…or to create, to fill your cup or your well, to share your gifts, to rise and shine. If you need me to help, I’ll be at my desk, writing away, lost in the wonderful possibilities ahead.

Women of Letters

I wrote today, and that made it a good day. Not just another few hours at the keyboard this time. Not just a work plan, or replying to an email that required an explanation, nor this blog post.

I wrote a letter to a friend. Four pages, handwritten, blue ink on yellow paper, folded in thirds and then in half to fit inside a card I bought. letterShe will be pleased to get it, since most of our contact over the years has been phone calls or an infrequent visit. I wish I was getting a letter. I told her a secret. I’m excited for her!!

My mom used to be a big letter writer. She corresponded regularly by mail. I remember once she made some comment about being bored, and I suggested she write a letter to someone. Her reply was, “Well, I can’t. I don’t owe anyone a letter.”  Yeah, that would be bad, an insult that the other person had not responded quickly enough or had missed responding altogether. Anyway, I remember she would sometimes watch for the mail to see if she got anything that day, just as excited as a kid. It was her connection to something, someone outside our house. Fortunately, when I left home she wrote to me even if I hadn’t written back. I guess the rules can be bent for children, even if they are adults. Mostly she told me about the weather, occasionally some news from the Gazette, our local twice-weekly newspaper, and once in a while an update on a family member or neighbor I may or may not have known. So maybe I got my love of letters from her. She kept some of the letters I did manage to send her, and now that she is gone, I have them back. It’s a treat sometimes when I miss her to sit and reread them.

I still have three letters from my first husband, all written in the early stages of our courtship; my first love letters, more than 40 years ago. Even though we divorced, they are a reminder of young love and that although it didn’t end well, it started well enough!

Kevin was not a traditional send-in-the-mail letter writer, but before we got married he used to email me almost every day. He lived an hour away, and phone calls still cost money. We both had jobs and kids with activities, so sometimes all we had was a few minutes here and there. Those were the days of local internet providers, too, so I don’t have access to those emails any longer. He gave me cards for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day (from the dogs), my birthday, our anniversary, and even Christmas. I kept many of them.  And I do have two voice mails I have saved from shortly before he died, both less than a half-minute of his voice asking me to call him when I had a minute. Still, there’s something about a letter… I wish I had even one from him.

My journal the first year after he died was almost all letters to him, telling him local news and about how I was feeling. He died unexpectedly, so this was my way to say all the things I didn’t get to say when he was here with me.  The letters were my way of not just processing his death but saying goodbye to him and the future I thought we were going to have together. The second year saw a slight shift. My journal became public with this blog, so my posts were more about him, not to him. This gave me a bit of distance, creating that space where I could prepare for not just a new life without him but a new me in that scenario.  And now I realize I write about me and my world, with an occasional mention of him. I can’t say the circle is complete, but it is the sign of the times; I’m healing and moving on.

An interesting thing about writing this letter today is that it gave me as much joy as I hope it gives my friend when she finds it in her mailbox. It validates me as a writer, too. I’m spending a lot of time at my desk on the computer lately. It felt good to have the slight weight of a pretty pen in my fingers as words flowed out. Time slowed down for a bit, and I still feel  relaxed, as if I had meditated a while.

She’ll wonder if it’s an Easter card (it’s not) or a very early birthday card (it’s not). But when she opens it and finds the letter, she’ll probably set it aside and make sure she has a fresh cup of coffee and uninterrupted time. That’s what I would do.

When is the last letter you wrote – that wasn’t a mass-produced Christmas Letter or a quick autograph on a $4.95 Hallmark card? I’ll bet you know someone who would love to get a letter in the mail. If you can’t think of anyone else, there’s always me!!

 

Love is blind

My fur baby Harley is around 12 years old. I adopted him as a rescue 3 months ago. Harley hair cutHe has no teeth, and was undernourished. He suffered from some stress, too, as evidenced by his lackluster and very thin coat of fur. Most problematic was the vet’s diagnosis that he was nearly blind, due to cataracts. I didn’t think it could be as bad as she suggested because he seemed fearless, jumping up onto my lap, hopping down off furniture, taking stairs without hesitation. There was the occasional drift to the side when we walked around the neighborhood, and once in a while, he turned a corner too short and bumped into a wall. I loved him anyway and was blind to the issue.

But it was happening a little more often lately. And then this morning, I had all the proof I needed. We were leaving the bedroom and heading downstairs. He was right behind me, as usual, or so I thought. I happened to glance to my right when I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. chair landingOh My God!! Harley had walked over to the banister that overlooks the entryway foyer. It’s got to be about 10′ down. He thought it was the steps, I guess. He is pretty small at about 5#. He had his head and shoulder through the spindles and was ready to put his paw down on the first stair – which wasn’t there – so he would have flown instead of walked.

I screamed and lunged, and by the grace of God, I grabbed his back legs. He was ready to fly when I swooped him up into my arms and nearly suffocated him. He was shaking and so was I. He didn’t cry but I sure did.

An hour later I had measured the banisters, put dogs in crates, and took off on a mission. It felt good to have a strong purpose, even given the circumstances. I went to Habitat ReStore, but no chic ideas came to me. Ace Hardware had lumber butlanding (1) that was not what I wanted. Danny’s Glass wanted almost $80 for one piece of Plexiglass, and I needed two.  Home Depot had options! There was a young man named Mike who was more than happy to cut a stock piece of thin clear plastic (whatever version of Plexi they carry) for me. When I got home, I gave quick thanks to the Angels in the Hardware Department of Heaven and drilled holes in the plastic sheeting without cracking it. I fastened it to the spindles with zip ties, and Voila! I have a solution to the dog-through-the-railing problem.

Then I rearranged the three baby gates and gatesthe aluminum shelf I use as a barrier to the stairwell, top AND bottom now. It would be nice if they had doors so I wouldn’t have to step over … since I took a fall a few weeks ago when I misjudged the height of one of them. Yes, I know I could buy the door kind but let’s say it’s not a priority. I’d prefer to think I’m young enough and agile enough that this is not a necessity…yet.

Now that I am calmed down (meaning I ate healing cookies and cinnamon rolls), I also have Googled how to care for a blind dog. Step 1 is to admit there is a problem. (Sound familiar?)  The vet says it’s cataracts, which may be surgically corrected or at least improved, but $2500 and no guarantee. Step 2 is to help him  use his  other senses, like smell and sound and touch. It’s unlikely I’m going to put bells on my shoes or the other dogs so he can find us, but I will talk to him more.

In fact, there are a series of things to do, some of which will be easier to implement than others. For example, I like to rearrange my furniture, but the advice is to leave it be so that the dog can learn his patterns. Use textured rugs to alert the dog to doors and stairs. Put scented oils on the rug under his food bowl and on his bed so he can find them easier. These are some of the to-do things.

Then there are the don’t-do things. He is so tiny that I love to scoop him up and cuddle him. But since he can’t see me or maybe always hear me, I need to be careful to not startle him. And carrying him from place to place is also a no-no, since he can become disoriented if he doesn’t recognize where I’ve put him down.

What it means is that we both have to adapt. Which is so obvious. I can’t believe I have never thought of me having to do the adjusting. How selfish is that of me?  I have never had to accommodate anyone (or anything) like this.  There was the time my son broke his knee and was on crutches and in a brace, but all I had to do really was to pick UP the throw rugs on the floor so he wouldn’t trip. He was the one who had to manage getting around. Am I a bad mama?

I’ve been blind about a few things apparently. I have a new appreciation for those with limited or no sight and how they adapt. I also have a new respect for those who live with or care for the blind or deaf. It may or may not be a hardship but it certainly takes compassion and selflessness.

I am going to be grateful that all I had was a close call today, one that could be fixed easily enough. I will be better prepared if ever I have the chance to help someone who has found themselves in need of help or understanding.  There are all kinds of blindness, and it’s up to me to figure them out and overcome or adjust to my own.

In the meantime, it’s probably safe to put the dog down now. It’s kind of hard to type with him on my lap and his paws tapping the wrong keys occasionally.  I will go read more on taking care of my nearly-blind dog. And if you see me in the store and I’ve forgotten to take off one of the bells on my shoe, just quietly point it out so I can stop jingling around.

Points of Reference

It started with winter weather

We had some winter weather here in Virginia last week. Depending on where you were, the snowfall was around 8″, give or take a few. Temperatures dropped to single digits. snow 2018Everything shut down for a few days, and I mean everything. Schools are still closed since there isn’t much in the way of  street-cleaning machinery and the busses can’t get around. My neighbor had frozen pipes in her house, and one of my own dogs refused to go outdoors for you-know-what.

I’m a Midwest girl, having grown up in Minnesota, and as an adult having spent many years in South Dakota.  I simply put on my Cuddleduds, which is “base clothing for layering” (also known as long underwear), heated up the apple cider and threw in some Sasha fireplaceRed Hots, flipped the switch to turn on the fireplace, and snuggled up with the dogs to do some reading while the crockpot cooked my Taterflower soup.  When I went out for fresh air, I wore a below-knee length down coat, gloves, a hat, and a scarf. And snow boots.  The wind only blew that first day, and after it stopped snowing a day later, the sky has been blue and the sun has been shining.

While many are complaining, I find it somewhat amusing. But that’s because my point of reference is different from theirs. People here are not used to cool temperatures, much less below-freezing days. They don’t have – or if they have it –  they don’t wear appropriate clothing.

It snowed last Thursday, and the weekend was when the cold front moved in. By Monday the temps were in the 40’s, yesterday they were about 50, and tomorrow is supposed to be in the mid-60’s.  I knew that the snow would melt soon enough and planned to save myself the strain of shoveling. But some neighborhood boys, probably freshly-minted teenagers, came around looking to make a few dollars.  shovelingWe’ve all heard about today’s kids and how lazy and self-centered they are, always plopped in front of a video game or growing a hunchback from bending over their cellphones. Here were three enterprising kids, willing to work for money, providing a needed service. I was more than happy to reward their spirit, their way of showing us that not all kids are hard to get a long with.  They wanted $30, which was $10 each, but all I had in my wallet was $29 – truly! Fortunately, I had just taken a pan of chocolate-chip cookies out of the oven, so we made a deal. In my experience, kids like food almost as much as they like money!

I can appreciate that swift shift to a milder winter, but for many here, it’s not soon enough. They haven’t lived through a winter that starts in October and ends in April, or one that has dropped 120″ of snow on you, or one where “snirt” is a real word (it’s dirt and snow that results from constant winds). They haven’t had to slice open a snow drift that is knee high and packed in like concrete where the garage meets the house. They probably have never climbed out a window to shovel their way to the front door . Yes, I have, so I know how bad it could have been and wasn’t.  It’s sort of like “you don’t miss the water til the well runs dry,” but not really. It’s more like you don’t know how good this is until you’ve survived a flizzard (yes, flood & blizzard) that forced you to sandbag your house during a snowfall.

I had lunch with some neighbors yesterday. Cabin fever had set in and most were anxious to get out. As we shared news from other neighbors who had gone south for the winter (ha!), I realized it’s not the just the weather that I view differently. My point of reference on many things is vastly different from theirs.

Innocent til proven guilty?

As you may know, my career was spent working for the judicial system. My views on true/false or good/bad or judgment or passion or blame or “rights” are all influenced by what I saw and heard and know.  It’s unfortunate that the court of public opinion seems to hold more sway than reality these days. Sensationalism sells, and with the proliferation of online instant access, waiting for the facts isn’t in vogue. I tend to stay out of the fray much of time, taking a wait-and-see approach, preferring to form my own opinions rather than have someone tell me “the way it is.” I have enough life experiences of my own now, and less of a need to rush to judgment, to get on the bandwagon too soon. Admittedly, I sometimes go days without checking the news at all. The advantage is that I don’t get depressed or desensitized by the headlines Usually there is better information (and thus a more complete story) by the time I check in.

Mishaps, setbacks, and tragedies

My point of reference (and my reactions today) for  medical emergencies, for example, is based on my experience as a parent, and since it takes a village, my quasi-parental role as an aunt and friend. There were broken bones,  car accidents, cuts caused by running into barbed wire fences and metal flashing sticking out of a well house cover, an axe that sliced open the top of a foot when chopping wood, and a successful suicide (but also some unsuccessful attempts), an accidental overdose, and a few DUIs. I know the difference between a mishap, a setback, and a tragedy.

Similarly, each death of a grandparent or cousin or uncle or friend built up my storehouse of experiences to call upon when my heart was bruised or broken. From failed relationships, to disappointment in  my parents or a boss, to the death of my husband and  even my dog, I have a place I can go to in my own little world and reflect on what else could have happened but didn’t.

Good stuff, too

Not all comparisons are bad, of course. There is good ice cream, and then there is real Italian gelato eaten on a cobblestone sidewalk in Florence. There is having an old Ford conversion van or upgrading to a brand new 5th wheel travel trailer. There is the ocean and the mountains. There is a karaoke in a bar that reveals a pleasant surprise, and professionals like Josh Groban or Miranda Lambert, but then there is the purest of joys when your kids video a roadtrip sing-a-long in the car on their way to Christmas vacation.

My point is, life is to be lived. If you do some living, your points of reference expand, making things more tolerable and enjoyable and meaningful. A week of winter weather becomes a few bonus days to clean out the closets or do some home cooking or have nothing better to do than read a book while snuggled with the dogs by the fire.

Live the good life

I say, bring it on!  I’d love to have a new perspective on what it’s like to live my tiny camper for a month or two, or to gain a sense of accomplishment from having traversed the back roads for a few thousand miles. DD FB page photoI think it’s when we are alone with our thoughts for a while that we can more fully appreciate not only the beauty around us but the goodness within us. I plan to do some more living this year. And so when you ask me what I think about something, I might just have to ask in reply, “compared to what?”

Moving on…with your help, please

This Solowingnow blog has been an integral part of my expression of grief and the healing that is ongoing. I started it just over two years ago, which was then one year since my husband Kevin passed away. I got that familiar advice: don’t make any major decisions for at least a year.  So I waited, and then one year to the day I quit my job and started a personal sabbatical to figure out the rest of my life.

That year turned into two, and now I have decided to declare my sabbatical official over and done. It’s the start of a new year and it seems the perfect time for a(nother) fresh start.  I never quite got that Flash of the Blinding Obvious about what my passion is, what I should be doing with my life, but I am definitely moving on. I have figured out what my next thing is, for now, which is to continue Solowingnow in some form, in addition to co-sponsoring an Author’Academy to learn and share what I am learning about writing, publishing, and selling myself as an author. An Information Meeting will be held next week, with the first of 8 classes to start in February.

Your support and encouragement has been amazing, and I am grateful for that. I think it must be a divine sign of some kind when what you do to help yourself ends up helping others. This blog was (is) my outlet for processing my grief, as well as saying out loud  my reflections on the changes going on in me and around my life . For example, it turns out that I had past, unresolved grief that needed to be dealt with, too, and I appreciate how fortunate  I am to have had this time to do that. I have learned a lot about who I am, why I am the way I am, what my default reactions tend to be, how to feel my feelings and let them go. Most of all, I have let go of the pieces of the old me and my old life, and I have opened myself up to the new me and the new normal.

With that in mind, I am asking for a favor, which is for you to help me figure out how else I might better help you.

Please take this short 2-minute survey to give me your ideas. Click here.  I will leave it open for one week, and on January 9 I will compile responses. Shortly after that, I will post my plans.

Thanks so much!

 

Yes? No? Maybe?!!

It MUST be true, since it is my own experience that not every “yes” is a good answer, and not every “no” is a bad answer. Tyes_no_maybe_white_dice_1600_clr_2630his  post is about the past month, during which I found myself distracted by opportunities, reminded by anniversaries, and presented with new partners. In the end, doors and windows keep opening  while I’ve been busy closing others.

When I left my job two years ago, it was my intent to take one year off of work to figure out what the rest of my life was going to be about. I didn’t know if it would really take a year, but that is what I thought I could afford..in terms of money but also in terms of social acceptability and self image. Ha! It actually took me two years but the doubts are now just fleeting thoughts. I’m ready to step off of the edge of this cliff and make some changes.

The month of November was the watershed. I had been wishy-washy about so many things over the past two years, trying to be open to new ideas, giving lip service to resistance about staying in my same old lane, yet keeping that safety net in place to the point it became my default Easy button. I dipped my toes in the water all summer long about going in a new direction, and now I’m jumping all in.  The “funny” thing is that my decision is finally the culmination of what I even said I would do two years ago but apparently was not committed to, writing a book about my grief experience.  I say “funny” because I have not felt much like laughing; in fact, have done a lot of crying and whining and wallowing and avoiding. This blog was my way of testing the idea.

So why now? Well, November is, first of all, the anniversary of when Kevin died. It’s also when his birthday was. His death created  an opening for me to once and for all give up the obligatory life I had been living (by choice, I admit freely), and live my bliss, so to speak. But I had no idea what that was. Or rather, I ignored the idea that I could really do what I had long fantasized about (at least subconsciously). That’s not the same to me as what I’m passionate about. I kind of hate that concept – find what you’re passionate about and do it! I was deceived into thinking it had to be ONE BIG THING that I was so ga-ga over that it was indisputable and very obvious what it was. But I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Also, November brought me another crushing blow when my daughter was unable to carry out a pregnancy. It maybe sounds shameful because I have other grandchildren, but for some reason, this one grabbed hold of my heart in a way the others didn’t. I was considering – seriously considering – packing up and moving to the other coast to become the grandma I wasn’t yet. This loss also reinforced for me  (how many times do I need to be hit upside the head????) how fragile life is, what a short time we have on this Earth, and how imperative it is to do NOW whatever it is I can’t figure out I’m supposed to do. This was the first week of November.

Kevin died on November 23, but it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This year Sunday was the 19th, so I managed to now activate my sadness genes for an extra 4 days, and then keep the pity party going through his birthday on the 30th. By then Mercury went retrograde, making my life  shmush tightly until I burst out in anger, asking for some help to get clarity once and for all. Finally, I forced up some answers.

A woman I met more than year ago but whom I hadn’t followed through with on a book plan was open to meeting with me again. After a couple of meetings, I felt that it was time I took a risk and put myself out there for something different than the standard fare that is me. And she said yes! We are going to partner up on a project.

By now, you’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about? It’s books. Not just my book, although that is on the horizon. It’s how books get made, the road from writer to published author. I used to consider that among the things I kept with me from move to move to move were books on leadership and public speaking, so that must be my thing. What I failed to see is that I keep books, not just the leadership and speaking  kinds but all kinds of books: different genres, buying them here and there, giving them away as gifts, using my library card regularly.  I love to read. I love books. If I have a collection of anything, it’s books. Yes, I have a kindle, but I love the paper, the touch, the notes I make in the margins. All things books. I even know people who have written books. AND I had a conversation with another friend a while back about her idea to set up a publishing business with her sister.  Which is to say that all the dots have been floating around but I couldn’t connect them; until now.

I actually started writing my first book so long ago I can’t remember when, except that it was during the First Husband phase, which means probably 30-40 years ago. I only did two chapters but I still have it  tucked away. Written longhand on a legal pad of yellow paper. I have since had four articles printed in trade journals, the first back in 1988 or 1989, the most recent one this past summer. I’ve even been paid for some writing. So I’m already a writer aside from this blog, and legitimately published. But I want to know more. I want the peek behind the curtain. I want to explore the world of writing and publishing.

Today I was asked about what it is I do. Without forethought, I responded “I help people help themselves with their writing and public speaking.” And I finally felt like I knew who I was. It’s been a long time coming, this decision – or is it just an acknowledgement? I know now that this version of me has been here all along, just buried so far down under the roles of daughter, and mama, and wife..sister..friend..employee..

And wouldn’t you know it? I have been sitting on a chance to do more court work. A proposal is  due tomorrow if I want to bid on the work, but I just can’t get excited about it. The money would be okay but it’s not all that great, and there are a few other detracting elements, like having to travel regularly, getting a supplemental business license, and giving up my rights to the final work product.  It’s an opportunity I would have jumped on in the past, but now I realize that while it’s something I could do, it’s not something I want to do. I’ve just learned this, too: Every “yes” is a “no” to something else. (Kevin Kruse, www.15TimeSecrets.com.)  I’m saying no to that proposal.

So November came and went, bringing with it old reminders and new lessons. Mercury went retrograde and brought with it some shade. Distractions tested my resolve, but opportunities helped me get clear on what I DO want, not just what I don’t want. It’s taken me two years of pushing, but I finally figured that out. And the time it has taken to do all this figuring was the gift from the grief I endured so I could learn to let go of the past, craft a new normal, and open myself to receiving the next part of my amazing life.

I’ll end with photos of two  vision boards I made for myself nearly a year ago, with the goal of manifesting my future – the one I couldn’t see, that I struggled to find. I couldn’t even interpret these then, but I can see now how they were showing me a way. I made 7 boards in about a one-week span, and all I was looking to include were things that resonated with me, even if they didn’t quite make sense. It’s  now crystal clear. visionboard2visionboard

 

 

 

Opening myself up further

I sometimes find it incredibly hard/difficult/challenging to acknowledge that I am enough. Just me. All by myself. I am enough. I am smart enough, kind enough, successful enough, generous enough, pretty enough, rich enough.   I have enough – money, time, education, resources, friendships, opportunities, things, ideas, food, work, love.  I do enough: volunteering, reading, resting, appreciating, cooking, talking, sharing, listening, thinking, cleaning, shopping, crying, laughing, learning.  So why do I keep trying so damn much to prove this to – of all people – myself??? It’s time to give myself a break; even I know that. So….

This past August I welcomed into my home a young Chinese woman who is here to work on her doctoral program at the local college.

Yawei halloween

Haloween decorating

Yawei is of the generation in China in which couples were only permitted to have one child, meaning she has lead the life of an only and somewhat spoiled girl in her small family.  She had never been to the United States before she came for school a few months ago. I have occasionally thought I was brave, but this woman is something else. Already I have learned much from her that I almost feel bad accepting the rent money!

Having her here has stopped me in my tracks to think about what I take for granted every day. I try to express gratitude daily, ever since I read somewhere this question: What if you woke up tomorrow and all you had was what you gave thanks for yesterday?  So anyway, I even had a gratitude challenge of sorts going on with my daughter for the past few months. Every day, we text each other 3 things we are grateful for. I try to stay away from just the material things, which  isn’t always easy.  Sometimes we mix it up and come  up with one thing we did well that day. That’s one way to remind ourselves that we are enough.  It’s similar to something else I read about recently called “praise work.” It has to do with when we seek approval outside ourselves, from others, which can border on neediness or co-dependency in the extreme.  If you Google “Praise work” it’s likely you’ll get results about praising others (especially employees), so why I haven’t heard of this or thought of it like this is just one more thing I am behind the times on, apparently.

Anyway, I am constantly reminded of how many things are great about my life, my house, my friends, my dogs, my community, my family, my country.  Yawei is like a child in some ways, full of  questions and unfiltered comments.  She is an industrious woman. She cooks all of her meals and takes them with her to school, meaning sometimes it’s late at night or early in the morning when she is clanging pots or the microwave is beeping. She is wide open to trying vegetables she has not seen before and can’t pronounce the names of.  Yawei cookingShe has been to every grocery store around to check out what each has to offer. She goes to the Outlet Mall several times a week. And she is diligent about her classes and homework, spending longs days at the college and signing up for tutors and taking recommended (but not required) English classes.

And she is learning about living with me, too. I recently had the opportunity to show her how I want the stove cleaned when she is done. Have you ever thought of how you explain something that seems so routine to you? Explaining why a shower needs to be cleaned when she says she  only uses clean water to wash with, or that scented aerosol spray doesn’t sanitize the toilet bowl, or that rugs can be “cleaned” by  shaking them out  or washing them. These  are just some of the things I have talked to her about.  Showing her what she does that is “teasing” to the dogs is another example of something I struggled with at first. Luckily, I didn’t have to teach her to drive but I have had to ask her to move her car that is parked too far into the road or in the middle of the driveway.

I am still at the laughing stage, as in “really?!??”  Sometimes it feels like I’m playing Scrabble and can’t come up with the right word because a letter is missing. I know she has good intentions and simply has not had to do these things before now. I love how open she is to learning, though, and it reminds me that I don’t know everything either. I imagine I would be in the same position if I were going to school in China and living with someone whose habits I did not understand.

About the time I wonder if I’m being played by her, I will hear her shout from upstairs, thanking me because the house looks so new and clean, and exclaiming how lucky she is to live here, and that she loves me…. I stop right in my thought and give thanks for her innocence and this chance for a do-over of sorts. A chance for me to let go of feelings of inadequacy, or of loneliness, or being taken advantage of. I am reminded that I have been given a place of honor to teach her what life is like in the USA that is not what you see on F-R-I-E-N-D-S on tv (which is where she learned her American “slanguage”). Whatever she tells her friends back in China will largely depend on what I have represented to her.

She has taught me to use chopsticks (I need more lessons), and to eat more vegetables, and to limit my sugar intake. She is a lesson in counting my blessings. She is an example of how joyful life is, and it’s not just limited to youth. She is curious, quirky, and competent at 27, a time when I was already a mother of 3 and acting all responsible all the time. It’s pretty cool that she is here to help me remember to be curious, quirky and competent today as well. We have a lot in common being two women on our own. Her life has changed dramatically in the past few months, as has mine in the past couple of years, and I daresay she is ahead of me in a few ways in accepting the changes and courting a positive future. poster (1)

It’s is freeing to open myself up as much as I have opened my home up, to let the love in, to share my day, to give of my blessings. I am so grateful for this opportunity, this detour from the plateau I had found myself on.  I have this sign on my desk, and it’s so spot on!