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!

Resiliency 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Risky Business

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Tom Cruise

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

1. Rambo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Politics.

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

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

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

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

3.  NaNoWriMo.

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, the New Beginning

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

PS

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

Lessons from MacGyver

Storm Prep the MacGyver Way

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

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

That Other Flood

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

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

Mishaps, Setbacks, and Tragedies

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

That Other Mishap

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

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

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

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

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

The Latest Mishap

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

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

MacGyver Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

Angel on Duty?

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

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

Evacuating from Hurricane  Florence

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

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

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

What to do once you are prepared and waiting…

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