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.

First Christmas “Alone”

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Can you really be “alone” if you have three dogs living with you? And you get an invitation from your good friend and her husband to join them for Christmas dinner? And a date to go to dinner and a movie with the same friend and her hubs a few days before Christmas? Or if you video chat with your kids and exchange texts with them and your sisters and brother before, on, and after Christmas Day? Or if you have phone calls lasting over an hour with one sister and another with your best girlfriend before you head out to the friend’s place? Or if another friend sets you up to meet her cousin and his wife who happen to be spending the holidays in my town? Which means I did not really spend Christmas alone.

Ssince Kevin died, I have had the past five Christmases with at least one of my kids (and usually at least two of them) and their families. Twice I have enjoyed the holidays with a sibling (or all four of them). And I have been able to spend time with friends each and every time. Yet, being away from home has usually meant I spare myself the expected agony of decorating and undecorating, shipping packages, baking for crowds, and being alone – not quite the same as feeling lonely.

This year I decided to stay home. Up went one tree (but not the usual two). Up went a lighted garland over the front door (but not on the railings or the deck). Up went the elves and reindeer (but not the snowmen or the nutcrackers). My bedspread was changed out (but not in the guest rooms), and the dining room table cloth, kitchen towels and apron, couch pillows, bathroom towels, and fireplace mantel were also changed out to more festive attire (but not the shower curtain). I’d show you pictures but it’s December 27, and I took it all down, put it back, and cleaned up today (instead of waiting until New Year’s Day).

I did bake and frost my traditional sugar cookies and Mexican biscochitos. I made the usual flavored pretzels. I drank mulled wine and listened to many of the Christmas CD’s and albums in my collection. I watched holiday movies, too. I did all the things we used to do. And I cried doing much of it. Not oceans of tears, but yeah, it was a long trip down memory lane.

The hardest part, I think, was the anticipation, thinking that decorating by myself would be sad, or that baking would be a drag, or that the reminders would be so hard to bear. In truth, that anxiety exceeded the reality. It turned out to be a bit of fun to do it ALL my way, without the teasing about my need for control. It took me two days to put things out and then change my mind and move them around, and that was just fine. We used to get the decorating all done in a day, and then hustle to get all the baking done, and we would multitask by watching a movie while we were doing something else. This year I was much more relaxed, stopping to do what I wanted when I wanted. I baked one day, frosted cookies the next. I even got a box of Christmas cards sent out, with personalized notes in each one.

When Christmas Day finally arrived, the gift opening took about two minutes – mostly because I wrapped all the dogs’ presents and had to help them open them up. But it was smooth going. No rush, no mess, no chaos, just a fire, good coffee, music in the background. Once the whole Getting Ready For Christmas was done, I found I enjoyed the actual Christmas Day quite a bit.

I realized that while I had been occasionally emotional at times in the weeks prior, it was not a stressful time. It was another little letting-go time for me. When it was most difficult was when I was by myself, so I sometimes reached out and shared stories with my friends or my family. We could laugh together, and they helped me remember other funny or poignant things I had forgotten. Like remembering the year the Copper John’s Dead Nuts fiber-optic 3-pin sight for his bow didn’t arrive on time. I worked to so hard to get exactly the right thing, and then it didn’t happen the way I wanted. So I put a photocopy of the order form in a tiny box, and wrapped it up. I watched him sweat it out, thinking I had gotten him a ring or something. He was so relieved (and extremely happy with the bow sight), but he told me that for future reference, jewelry was NEVER a good idea for him! Or the year he flew the (expensive) remote control helicopter into the wall and busted it up on it’s maiden flight. He spent as much to have it fixed as I paid for it, but he didn’t tell me that until after he got it repaired! And the year he got my sister to help him buy me a pair of “good” tweezers because he couldn’t figure out the difference in what he saw at the store. Or when he surprised me with an electronic keyboard because I once told him that I had wanted to learn to play piano when I was a kid.

There were … ARE … a lot of good memories and fun times that I don’t want to forget. Sometimes it is good to stay home and remember them, without all the distractions, travel hassles, and togetherness. And now that Christmas is put away for another year, while my heart is still wide open (and the weather is good), I am going to finish off the holidays by heading off to visit one of my sisters and celebrate the coming New Year. I am packing up three dogs, clothes for all weather contingencies, the cookies and pretzels I can’t eat more of, and gifts I have collected from some friends to help her in her recovery from the house fire she suffered this past summer.

My son gifted me a book for Christmas, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. It’s a sequel to The Five People You Meet in Heaven. It’s a great read; I’m already done with it. This part stuck with me:

“We fear loneliness, Annie, but loneliness itself does not exist. It has no form. It is merely a shadow that falls over us. And just as shadows die when light changes, that sad feeling can depart once we see the truth.

“What’s the truth?” Annie asked.

“That the end of loneliness is when someone needs you.” The old woman smiled. “And the world is so full of need.”

This holiday season I have been blessed, again. I was able to recognize and meet my own needs by staying home, remembering, enjoying, crying, healing. Plus, there were those dogs who needed me, too! I wasn’t lonely, even if I was “alone” much of the time. It was a pretty good Christmas after all. I won’t hesitate to do it this way again.

I’d like to hear about your first Christmas alone, or what some of your favorite holiday traditions are. Feel free to comment below. Here’s to hoping for another great year of memory-making in 2020!!

Love Potion #9

When you are solo, whether by design, divorce, or death, it is easy, and almost necessary, to go searching for the magic that will make you feel less lonely and more relevant in the world, less dull and more alive. What I have discovered is that there is no One Size Fits All solution to these problems, or most any problem, for that matter.

I must confess, though, I have found my answer. Yes, friends, love is the answer!! We’ve heard it in songs, in poetry, and from well-meaning friends. It turns out it is true. Falling in love is known to cure all kinds of ills and ails, and so I have jumped into the waters one more time.

I met him online just over a week ago. I know what you are thinking – this is wild! But I must believe that old saying is true that you find love when you’re not looking for it. But I know this about me: I need touch, I need attention, I need laughter. Rocco provides all of this, and more.

Rocco

He is gentle, and funny, and exuberant, and playful, and curious, all the qualities a gal looks for in a guy. Or a mommy looks for in a furbaby. And that’s exactly what I got, all in one four-month-old bundle of fluff and slobber. Meet Rocco, the new man in my life.

I saw his picture on a Facebook post, and I zapped it off it to my sister just to look. He is a Shih-Tzu and she has one. I had been thinking of maybe looking for another senior Yorkie like my Harley, maybe after Christmas. I called her, and as we were talking, I got a text from the dog rescue organization I volunteer with.

I was also preparing for the adoptive parents of Molly, the beagle, to come get her at 10:30. Wouldn’t you know it? At 12:30 I was on my way to pick up Rocco (then named Wrigley) to foster. He is my 9th foster dog in just over two years, and my first puppy. You know how people say “third time is the charm?” Well, this is not only the third one I have “foster failed” by adopting, but as the ninth one, he is my Love Potion #9.

Just to be clear, I still love the other dogs I have now (Bo and Sasha–my first foster, who I adopted) and the ones I have lost (Cookie, Chica, Blackie, Buddy, and Harley–my second foster who I also adopted) and the ones I have only had for a short time until they found their furever homes (Lily, Rascal, Dopey a/k/a Bandit, Paris, Dixie, and Molly).

Rocco has awakened something in me, and I like it. He filled an empty spot, and not just the vacancy created by Harley’s passing this last July. He makes me want to stay on my toes, to learn from him instead of making him learn my ways, to get down on his level and see the world from a simpler view. He has brought fun back to me.

Here’s an example of my life now.

The other day he got his stitches removed from being neutered, so I gave him his first bath (at my house). It turns out he HATES water. Does. Not. Like. Being. Wet. He does not like getting his face wet, and he isn’t much more happy about having his bum washed. He squealed like a baby goat! And not just once. I laughed so hard he stopped for a second and stared at me. I am sure my arms were shaking as I was holding his wet tiny body. So he started to shake, too, you know, how dogs shake all the water off their bodies? I let go of the water sprayer to grab a towel to protect the counter and window, but the nozzle hit the side of the sink just right and there was water shooting up in the air like a fountain. It was hilarious’; I thought I might pee my pants.

He started shrieking again (yep, the baby goat cry again), which made Sasha start barking, which made Bo pay attention and start his own baying. If it had been summer and door a was open so someone would have heard us, they would have called 911 and come running. It was a comedy I hadn’t been part of in forever. My sides hurt from laughing. It was the zaniest, craziest thing that has happened to me in long while. I hugged his dripping wet body next to me while I shut off the water, and we sat on the floor recovering. Ah, it feels so good to laugh. He still didn’t think it was funny and scrambled away. But Oh My Gosh! I still smile just remembering it.

Well, anyway, by the time I caught him and had him dried off, my coffee was cold but I had a good dose of Love Potion #9, so it all turned out better than okay. The adoption will be finalized this week, and my new little family will be making more memories. Will have to work on the bath thing, though. Beagles only need baths 3-4 times a year, but apparently Shih-Tzus about every 3-4 weeks. God help us! It might not be so funny the next time, or by this time next year!

Why I Haven’t Posted in 6 Months

Back in March of this year, I noted that it had been four months since my previous post of November 2018. I said I would do better, post more frequently. I had good intentions. I believed it when I said it. And then Life sorta happened, as it does sometimes.

There really is no one good reason, nor any number of smaller good reasons why I have not been diligent about keeping up the blog. There are a few excuses, of course, like: I’ve been busy, I’ve been traveling, I’ve been tired, I’ve been suffering from a lack of motivation. But the truth is closer to the fact that I have hit a lazy patch … in terms of posting. And maybe it has to do with my need to bring closure to the grieving process and open wide the door between testing out and actively living my new life.

Defense #1: being busy.

I actually have been busy with home repairs and general maintenance; most recently, it’s getting the thermocouple replaced on the fireplace. The camper needed new tires, and a bit of spiffing up. The office begged for decluttering and reorganizing. Plus, I am president of my local homeowners’ association. We have had four regular and 2 special meetings since March, and our Annual Meeting is in just about two weeks from now. We adopted new Architectural Guidelines (which I drafted) and a budget for next year, and we got a new website published last week. Yes, busy is me!

Defense #2: traveling.

And I have been traveling; I’ve taken Saffianna (my travel trailer) on three separate journeys to Minnesota (with stops in Toledo, Muscatine, and Redwood Falls and stays at Sauk Centre and along Lake Superior), North Carolina (Asheville), and New Mexico (via Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee; Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma; Albuquerque/Santa Fe/Madrid/Los Alamos/Taos; the Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas; and Nashville, Tennessee). That was 53 days and just over 10,000 miles. Hard to write when your hands are on a steering wheel.

Defense #3: tiredness.

Oh, and have I been tired!! Physically and emotionally. Not only did I suffer from allergies that flared up on my most recent trip, but in July I had to unexpectedly say goodbye to my Yorkie Harley who got cancer. I then fostered Dixie for three weeks (and who was in heat and ran away once – for five hours), Molly for 4-1/2 weeks (and was also in heat), and now Rocco (who I am planning to formally adopt).

Defense #4: writing v. blogging.

I have been writing but just not on this blog nor not posting what I have drafted. I am especially proud of the fact that I have been doing Morning Pages, a journaling program devised by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way fame. (Spoiler Alert: I am going to be facilitating a 12-week Creative Cluster recommended by Cameron, using her book as a guide, starting in January.) I hand-write three pages every morning. Every morning. Three pages. Every. Morning. Of course, if I wrote posts for this blog every morning, or drafted three pages of my book every morning, I’d be considered quite prolific. And probably have a tangible product in my hands. Instead, I’m not/don’t. I’m not sure what to do about that. Except just do it. I blame it on the constant change-ups in my routine, but I think it might be something else.

GOOD NEWS!

The good news is that my busy-ness is an indicator of how things in my life keep changing and settling into place. All of my own doing. If things didn’t evolve, if there was nothing to look forward to, if there were no fun days or reasons to get out of bed, if I was still deep in the grip of my grief, I wouldn’t be having all of these excuses to fall back on. Which are good excuses, I think.

It’s not auto-pilot that keeps me going. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it was fear of getting stuck on auto-pilot that gave me the nudge to have an active grief. I intentionally worked through my grief, and worked on my grief, to process the feelings I was having or not having, to prioritize my growth through all the confusion and doubts, and uncertainties revealed by new discoveries from this life I was having. Once I started to realize my confidence was returning and I was being productive again, I kept working to create a life I didn’t want or need to escape from. I was consciously aware of the challenge of avoiding the danger zone that opens up when I feel anxious or defeated or unproductive.

Integration Achieved!

So being busy, going places, learning new things, are all signs not just of acceptance but that I have integrated the changes brought about by Kevin’s death. I have not just risen from the ashes; I have successfully designed my new happy place.

New direction?

The question remains, what to do about this blog. I started out wanting to chronicle my grieving process as well as to practice and improve my writing skills. I have enjoyed posting, when I did it. I enjoy writing, whether for journaling purposes or publication, so I plan to keep on doing it. I think that part of the reason I have let my interest wane is because I have moved through the darkness, the sadness, the heaviness of grieving, and I don’t want to get stuck back there. I have come out the other side, the place of New Beginnings.

So my plan is to take Solowingnow into the future, writing about my new vantage point with a Solo-status perspective, having achieved my own Wings, not quite single but not wanting to be defined as a widow, focusing on the Now.

That’s the plan anyway. Unless Life gets in the way again. And who could not want that?

Purple Hair

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

The Night at the Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Get Perspective, Maybe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belonging

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

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

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

Reflecting on Who I Am .. Was … Am …

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

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

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

Questions

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

Fast Forward Almost a Year

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

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

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

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

Free at Last!

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

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

Does Action Precede Motivation?

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

So…dogs happy, me not so much.

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We go where you go, Mom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While I’m Waiting…

Writer’s Block?

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

Busy-ness

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

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Hellabores are taking off, finally, after 3 years

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

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

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

…Waiting…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distractions…or Expression?

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

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

Home, Sweet Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satisfaction

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

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

Embarrassed…4 Months??!??

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