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!
Flailing arms and legs, jerking head, baring teeth, and otherwise squirming and twisting every which way but loose (literally). I’ve seen people have seizures, and it wasn’t that. And it also wasn’t over, by a long shot. So far, it was a draw as to who was ahead in the battle to trim the toenails. I was secretly glad to witness that the veterinarian, a professional who even had an extra set of hands from her assistant, wasn’t much better at this than I was all by myself. At only 3 years old and 13#, Sasha was holding her own, but in the end, she came away with a nice set of short nails, a treat, and a recommendation for attendance at charm school. Seriously.
Then it was Harley’s turn. At around 12 years old but just barely 6#, he still proved to be a contender. In fact, he held out longer than Sasha did, and I was proud of my boy for the way he defended himself against the crafty pair with the clippers and Dremel. After all, he is blind, deaf, and has no teeth, and did I say only 6#? So his acrobatics against those two sighted tricksters was admirable. No recommendations for manners for him, but I’m guessing the hope was that I would be the one to learn something, and then I could somehow transfer all my new knowledge to him as well.
No offense taken; I know my kids are the product of their parenting… mine and whoever had them before me. Since it’s just us now most of the time, I let them get away with a lot, and they know I’m the Alpha. When it gets tricky is when other people or dogs are involved. It doesn’t bother me to let them be what they are, which is dogs, or more appropriately, animals. Yes, they sit on the furniture; it’s where I sit and I like to cuddle them. Yes, they sleep in bed with me; I don’t mind sharing a king-size bed that would otherwise be too … let’s not go there … (although I do whine about them sleeping on top of me). Yes, they bark at the neighbors walking by; when it gets to be too much, I just close the door. Their biggest crime (and this is all of them) is when they insist of eating breakfast at 0’Dark 30 in the morning. But I also have seen and heard Sasha get territorial and self-protective. And those nails do scratch me.
Can you teach an old dog (or mother) new tricks? Or a young one who has been flipped and flopped to four homes in the one month before I got her last year? Oh, did you see that? I am already making excuses for her (and ultimately, me). Yikes! I’m an enabler!! I can see it now. Darn it. You know what this means. I can’t un-ring that bell. I will at least have to give that trainer a call now.
The proof is in the pudding, my friend Diane says. I guess we’ll have to see about that. Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Sasha Goes to Charm School.
By the way, the rest of the annual checkup was all good. Weight gains, skin healed and fur flourishing; all test results fine; vaccinations given without incident. The vet did mention something about brushing Sasha’s teeth every day to keep plaque down. Like that is going to happen without me losing a finger or two. I’m sure that was a joke.
I feel pretty good about my critters and my role in getting them healthy and feeling safe. I feel like I’m just now getting to know the real dogs instead of the scared, stressed out, uncertain ones I rescued last year. (Truth: I am pretty sure they rescued us, me and Bo both. FYI, Bo happens to be fully recovered and bounding all around these days, either following Harley or escaping from Sasha. Grateful that his earlier paralysis this spring has gone away and that he has gotten used to his furry mates.)
The dog dish
The cute, colorful, ceramic dog dish sailed across the charming (read: uneven) Saltillo tile floor straight into the base of the unforgiving corner cupboard. My toe started throbbing before the food jumped all over the place seeking safety from the impact. The crash was more of a thwack sound, kind of dull; not like shattering glass, but the result was the same: shards everywhere. One of the problems with staying in someone else’s house, you see, is that things aren’t where they would normally be. Thus, the simple step to find the cereal became a punt-kick for the poor dish. I’m glad it was our own dish I had brought along instead of one of theirs. But anyway, broke is broke.
I’m staying at my son’s house in Santa Fe while he and his family are on vacation. They watched my dogs while I detoured to California, and now it’s my turn to repay the favor. As it happens, I think I am going to owe them money; more on that in a bit. It has been unusually hot and windy here, too warm to cook a proper meal, so I was getting by with cold cereal for supper.
What do Kintsugi, Work, and HGTV all have in common?
The Japanese have a word for taking something broken and fixing it, usually with liquid gold, to create an even more beautiful replacement. It’s called kintsugi. I didn’t have any gold powder and other materials on hand, and anyway, it was a dog food dish. Still, I had a fleeting thought as I looked at the mess to be cleaned up: I could maybe fix this. (No, I didn’t even try.)
Fixing things is a habit. Partly it is because I was raised as a Midwestern girl to be thrifty and practical and independent. I’m also a teensy bit fiscally conservative (meaning I didn’t want to have to buy a new dish if I could fix this one), and I also believe in the reduce-reuse-recycle movement. I love consignment stores and second hand shops, and as an HGTV junkie when I had cable tv, I learned a lot about crafting.
My fixing habit is also born out of a preference to make things right, to keep peace, to not let things get out of hand, to keep everyone comfortable, to not have things once gone wrong not go wrong again; i.e., I relocated the remaining dog dishes to avoid breaking more of them. I was (and am) quite good at confronting and even occasionally creating conflict if I need to. But that rarely is the case now. My fights are with usually with myself, between my head and my heart, over broken expectations of myself. I am working harder now at trying to not overthink things, to observe and feel, to be present and not invest in worry and regret.
So back to the dog dish. I remembered how I had bought it for Buddy when he was about 1-1/2. It was a find in the Denver airport, of all places. It was a souvenir gift for him when we left him with my Dad when we went to my son’s wedding in California 12 years ago. (I just remembered that I forgot to send him a Happy Anniversary wish! Darn!!) So wanting to fix it and keep it was an emotional response. Buddy crossed the Rainbow Bridge, as they say, a year ago. I shed a tear over the dish coming apart, realizing it was time to let go of another piece of him.
I came apart a little too. I had to, to let the tears out. And then as Harley wandered into the mess I was trying to sweep up, I found a little smile. I wouldn’t have him or Sasha with me today if I still had Buddy to care for. I scooped him up and snuggled him for a minute, feeling the warm liquid gold of love fix me.
Other things have come apart on this trip as well. There was the conversation with my daughter about my living so far away from all of my family. That opened the door to continuing discussions about the sense of belonging, common desires, new plans being made. The old reasons are holding up like they used to; they were (and are) valid, but they’ve gotten thinner as time goes by.
There was Olivia’s black suede boot Oscar chewed the toe out of when he was bored. That was on my watch, and I felt bad. It was followed by Kelsyn’s shoe losing a strap on the back. I was frustrated and my patience was coming apart at the seams until I realized I only needed to be more present, to pay attention, and to outsmart the dog who was on his home turf. Closing closet doors was a simple start, and then I helped him release some anxiety and energy with outdoor play. Playtime fixed both of us.
Oh, and then there was the fantasy, if you can call it that, that my ex (and father of our three children) and I could become friends again. Ha! I thought since I was in town and had seen him in passing on a city street, that I would reach out and see if he wanted to have coffee. The call did not go well, as I heard the same macho guy of 30 years ago tell me how busy he was but if I called back and “reminded” him, he might be able to get together in a few days. WTH?!?? I did NOT and will NOT call him back. That was not liquid gold; it was old dirty duct tape that was sticking to itself. Some things need to stay apart; that is all the reminder I needed about that.
My perspective on things has been changing ever so slightly sometimes, and other times it changes with a crash or thwack or sound of a phone call being disconnected. I like how I no longer go from 0-60 in a single second when I’m stressed. I like how I can see from multiple angles now instead of a single dimension. I like how I can observe and be able to feel the feelings I am having instead of needing to dissect an interaction.
I like how some things come apart so I can peek inside and let the light in, let the love in, let the feelings go where they need to go. And some things come apart so we can let the judgment out, to bring our attention where it is needed, to allow softening of rough edges.
The gas gauge indicated there should be half a tank of gas, on a truck that that has about a 25-gallon tank. Yet, the “Low Fuel Level” message lit up. A wind gust buffeted the side of the camper. Although finding a gas station would undoubtedly lower my stress level, still we sat still in the line waiting for the emergency responders to clear the roadway from of the semi-tractor that had jack-knifed ahead of us. There was no telling how long we might be there, and the need for air conditioning was competing with the need to avoid walking when I ran out of gas. Such was the dilemma of that moment.
Wouldn’t you know it? I made safely to a gas station not long after that, and I gave my thirsty truck a big (BIG) drink of fuel. I wasn’t in a hurry as far as the clock was concerned, and we were on our way again shortly. But then the Check Engine light came on, and at the next exit ramp, we were off again to figure a plan of action. Luckily, there was a truck stop with a 24-hour maintenance shop. Except they only serviced big rigs. However, they referred me to a 24-hour wrecker and auto repair shop nearby. Tommy, the technician, guessed it was a loose fuel cap, and hooked up a sensor to the truck’s computer. Yep. A quick reset, and we were on our way once again.
By the way, “we” is me and three dogs – who are unsurprisingly useless in a crisis, but at least they didn’t cause any further stress by howling and growling. They were much more patient than I was, thankfully.
This was the second leg of my adventure. I spent the first day traveling to Elkin NC and survived a wicked thunderstorm in 5:00 Friday night traffic in Winston-Salem. Yeah, I know, good planning on my part, right? Anyway, I had an absolutely wonderful time Saturday on the Blue Ridge Parkway, revisiting Blowing Rock, and getting the feel of my camper and truck on a cross-country trip. So making it through Nashville’s spaghetti system of interstate interchanges was done by a fortified driver.
I was relieved to make it to Memphis, anticipating Graceland’s tour scheduled for Monday. It was too bad some jerk parked his truck quite close to my campsite, making backing it and setting up harder than it should have been in the dark. But two women from Ontario, Canada, Dawn and Louise, were very helpful, so all was right again in the world. (If their names had been Thelma and Louise I might have had second thoughts about letting them guide me.)
The next day would be a long-awaited visit to Graceland, but as I finally laid in bed that night, my mind was filled with thoughts about how I was living out the Solowingnow name I had given myself. Of course, we are never fully alone. I did have my dogs, but I also am certain I had divine help in the form of angels helping me along the way. How else do you explain that I never once had a close-call with merging onto interstate traffic because the lane was clear a mile back? Or that I made it to a gas station in the nick of time, and that I found not one but two 24-hour service stations on a Sunday night? I think we often think we are alone because we don’t see anyone else, but I was not unaccompanied either physically or spiritually.
Other thoughts also kept my mind entertained for a while that night. I remember thinking that Kevin would have loved this trip. He would have loved the scenery, the challenge, the upcoming sights to see, the freedom of the open road. And then this bright thought occurred to me: as much as he would have loved it, I also loved it. I promised myself right then that I would start now to put myself first. It is all well and good to think of others, but my first responsibility now is me. I can invite his spirit to come along for the ride, but the realization that it is indeed an invitation means that I have completed another phase of adjustment toward this new life I am living. I am no longer waiting for it to be my turn; I am claiming my place at the fire of the strong, brave, wise women of the world. I have my own stories to tell now, and this trip is just one more collection of memories that comfort me.
I am blessed – and I know that I am blessed – to have this opportunity to travel. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as “they” say. I have been to the ocean, to the mountains, across the prairie. I do not have to choose one over another. That is freedom.
Here are some sights along my way so far. More to come as I settle in.
I want to tell you about my friend Jackie,
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:
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.)
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.
PLUS, 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.
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. She 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!!
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. Everything 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 Red 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. We’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. I 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?”
Of course, you know I love you. That’s what we expect to hear when someone hints at “3 little words.” Usually we want someone else to say those words to us. Or we say them to someone else. But what about saying it to yourself? I’m trying to do that every day, by way of coming up with one thing I’ve done well today. Here are some more that have been on my mind.
License and registration. (That one because I was driving past the State Police HQ when I was thinking of sentences with only 3 little words. Really! It’s been years since those words were said to me.)
I am enough. (I have been telling this to myself quite often lately. When I don’t have any paying work lined up, it helps to remind myself that I get to make up my own rules about work and naps and expectations and all that jazz.)
Can I help? (Good enough, but if I were doing 4 words, it would read How can I help? When I need to feel useful, or when I see someone in need, although I have to be careful to avoid going from helping to interfering. Listening is actually a skill and one that is often overlooked. I’m trying to do more of it.)
Yes, you can. (Accepting help is sometimes hard for me. And it also works when supporting others and helping them give themselves permission for whatever.)
I like it! (Another way to approve of myself, to reinforce that I have made a good decision or that my opinion counts.)
You showed courage. (When I don’t have another response to someone else’s openness and honesty, or when I need to bolster my own self esteem.)
That looks good. (A way to build my confidence when I’ve already managed to knock myself about my weight, or a troublesome haircut, or a new recipe, or any number of things.)
I am enough. (Worth repeating multiple times. When I feel insecure, when I think I am lacking something, when I feel like someone bought into my b.s. and I am a fraud and they will find out.)
Home, sweet home. (When I have to make another mortgage payment and funds are getting low so I’m thinking I should consider downsizing. Or it looks like a water stain on the ceiling that could mean a leak somewhere, and I let my imagination go wild about the cost when I’m not yet even sure of the cause. I have to live somewhere, so why not here in this lovely house that I have worked hard to make a home.)
Thank you, God … or Thank you, Whoever. (It’s not just a common courtesy expression. I mean for it to be an expression of true gratitude. Sometimes it comes out “Oh, my God!” I used to only thank God for the BIG things that happened, or didn’t happen. But I heard someone ask “what if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for last night?” So now I am thankful for much much much more! And it seems to help me be positive, calm, and more sure that I will continue to receive because I have already received and am receiving, all the time.)
WTF or WTH??!? (‘Nuff said about that. Usually means I’m not focusing.)
Just do it. (When I am floundering, wavering, scared. Often followed with, “What’s the worst that could happen?) (The corollary is Just say No! which I use when I’m feeling overwhelmed, or when I want to be free and lazy and unencumbered and I just don’t want to. It turns out that “No” is a complete sentence. You don’t even need to give an explanation if you don’t want to.)
Work in Progress. (That’s me in a nutshell. I remind myself of this every single day. I even wrote it on a few Post-It notes and stuck them around the house so I can see it as well as hear it.)
And finally: Bless your heart! (A common phrase here in the South, and it means just what you think it does. When it is said like Bless your little ol’ heart, that means the same thing but more of it. In Minnesota, we might say: Well, that’s interesting! It’s noncommittal, but it carries a lot of intention, especially when accompanied by rolling one’s eyes.)
Three-syllable words, sentences with more than three words, paragraphs with more than three sentences…yeah, I’m trying to simplify my life right now, so I’m working on little-izing instead of supersizing. Do you have any particular 3-little-words you want to share? I bet it would be fun and maybe useful to know yours.
When is the last time you had one of those days, the kind where After All That’s Happened, you had a simply peaceful, just-right, nothing-is-going-to-stop-me-from-feeing-this-good kind of day? It’s like having a sore muscle or pinched nerve relieved with a massage, and now you can’t remember what the discomfort was like. It feels that right. It’s a bit of a it’s-finally-coming-together kind of day.
Today is one of those days for me, just simply fabulous. The funny thing is, there is nothing exotic about it except for its fabulousness. It’s not even 3:00 in the afternoon yet, but let me tell you about it.
I was awakened by the sound of the Recycling Co. truck in the distance, so I hurried to get my bin out to the curb. You just never know what time of day they are coming by, and it had rained hard off and on yesterday, so I kind of forgot about it last night. But out I went, in my pajamas, which is really a light pink, sleeveless shorty nightgown. Mission accomplished with no neighbors outside – although for all I know they were peeking out their windows and waiting for me, since I seem to usually be the last one on the street to get my bins out there.
I felt a little bit of guilty pleasure for my pj escapade, and when I got back in the house, I did check quick and see if I had on dark underwear that might have shown through, but I was safe. It was so beautiful out, though. I wanted to stay out and enjoy more of it. Alas, the cushions on my deck chairs were soaked from yesterday’s rain. One of these days I have GOT to get covers or one of those Rubbermaid chest things to keep them in.
So I made my coffee and sat in the living room with the back door open. It smelled earthy and fresh and promising somehow, like a secret waiting to be told. The birds were chatting about it, probably commenting to each other how all the flowers and bushes and plants were so perky this morning. The light breeze not only felt like breath on my shoulders, but the deck flag floated back and forth, like it was a Royal giving a wave. It was just so perfect in that moment.
I realized that Something Was Happening. In me. I was totally free. For no reason except that I wasn’t just seeing some distant silver lining, it was within reach and inviting me to touch it. That fleeting feeling stayed with me, though, and became a long minute, and then it was several minutes. I actually checked the clock to see if time was standing still for me, but it wasn’t. Nothing out-of-body going on, just that for once I was truly In The Moment. And it was amazing.
I started wondering: how does this happen? Why wasn’t there a notice of this upcoming special day? If I had been given an opportunity get ready, would I have done so? Where do I put in my order for another such day? And when I did that, when I got into my analytic mode, I could literally sense it slipping away. So I stopped. Just like that. I stopped asking anything, and I just reveled in the perfectness. It was a few minutes after 9, and the lightness has stayed with me all day. I feel open, and happy. It’s inexplicable. And fabulous!!
I’ve heard it said that when something like this happens – and this was really really good for me – people tend to say that that they are in the heart of God at that moment. I think, though, that God was in the heart of me. I was in Ray Steven’s old song, everything is beautiful in it’s own way. I have been given a gift today.
I remember one Sunday afternoon when Kevin and I were motorcycle riding in South Dakota; we were out by the Oahe Dam. There were some darkening clouds in the West but we thought we had time yet to make a quick run up to the bluffs past the overflow thing. I was in the lead, and as I came up the hill and took the last curve to the West, it was like a door to the world had opened up in a movie scene. I had to pull over because the awesomeness of it, the raw natural beauty, was overwhelming. I felt my soul filling up and I was totally in the moment. Kevin pulled up beside me and we both just took it all in. The only words spoken were when he said “My God,” and it was a prayer. I was totally connected to him in that moment as well. We were both dressed in full leathers, but trust me, that was one of the most intimate moments we ever shared.
This morning was almost like that. I wasn’t meditating, I hadn’t been drinking, I had no particular musical or other inspiration. But it was a perfect moment. I’d like to think I’ve had many of these kinds of perfect moments, and now that I’m giving my memory a workout, a few others are coming to mind, once in Germany, that afternoon in Indianapolis, several in Santa Fe, outside Charlottesville; yes, I’ve know I’ve been blessed. In over 21,500 days of my lifetime, I must have had many more I just don’t recall. I can’t make up for lost time, but I can and will start paying better attention.
Please tell me about your perfect (or near-perfect, or even just-pretty-damn-good) moments. I’d love to hear them. I think that by sharing them, we can spread a little more joy and prime ourselves to find more of them.
It’s about 4 pm now, and I have probably 6-8 more hours of this fabulous day left to me. I wonder what’s next!