Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Brand Spankin' New Year

No matter how much you muck up your year, every January 1 at one second past 12:00 a.m., you get a brand new shiny year, fresh out of the box, unused, unworn, untarnished. It is perfect and it is yours. 

When you buy a new car, the moment you drive it off the lot, it loses a portion of it's value. The first time you discover a rogue shopping cart resting against your bumper when you exit a store after an afternoon of shopping, your heart sinks as you realize your new car is not new anymore. It's dinged, it's lost value, and it needs to be washed. You wonder why you ever bought a brand new car when every nick and mark hurts your heart so. Maybe next time you'll just buy used. Meanwhile, you still have several years to drive this one in its never-as-good-as-new state.

You walk out of the hair salon with a new cut and feel great. Your stylist has again created a masterpiece of hair and you feel like you should be rushed directly to the nearest fashion runway because you look so good. So. damn. good. After a busy afternoon of going everywhere and seeing everyone possible -- to get the most mileage out of your new 'do -- you settle into bed and drift off to sleep. You deserve some rest, beautiful new hairdo. You really worked it today. Then the morning comes,

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Breaking the Seal

One year ago, I made a vow to attend a retreat hosted by Squam Art Workshops (SAW). This I promised after completing an online class via SAW where I learned random weaving and was completely swept up in the teaching style and encouragement. Me. Weaving. Randomly. Don't judge me.

The night of December 4, 2013, I felt a bit lighthearted and tricked out a canning jar to act as both a reminder and a savings vehicle for me to attend one of the SAW retreats in person. It would take a bit of doing, since these are held in the woods of central New Hampshire and I live, well, no where near there. But I could work toward it.

The first night after making the jar when I filled it with all the coin and currency
I had in my car and in my wallet that night
. (Hmm, I've painted the table since then.)
I sent the picture to the founder of Squam, thinking she might find it amusing. At the time, I did not know if anything would

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Giving Up for Christmas

I had to let go. The feeling I held onto for years was getting me nowhere. It kept me mired in a place that wanted me stagnant. It held my feet to the spot where no real peace could grow. I held onto the feeling so tightly for so long that I no longer knew when I first felt it. I held onto it so long that I no longer knew why it is important to me. 

Yesterday, I sat in a movie theater watching Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon and based on a book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. If you have not yet heard of it, the story is that of a woman (Strayed) who embarked on an 1100-mile trek along the Pacific Coast Trail from California to Oregon whilst trying to work through some tough emotional issues regarding love, loss, and identity. I read the book a few weeks ago, in preparation to see the movie when it released, but nothing could have prepared me for the feeling that overwhelmed me in the darkness of the theater as I watched Strayed's story unfold on the screen.

For years I have held animosity toward a person for things I once could have sworn she did intentionally to me. I could have sworn that once, but there in the glow of a movie screen, I wasn't so sure anymore. On nearly every meeting between the two of us, I analyzed yet another reason I felt slighted and noted one more infraction she had committed in my eyes. While

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Gifts for YOU

Who doesn't like presents? While giving these gifts across cyberspace is absent the thrill of pretty paper and ribbons followed by ripping open the packaging to reveal the goodness inside, I believe these gifts can give you so much more over the long term. What I have for you below is a list of glorious websites that will introduce you to some inspiring people across the world. I have discovered many of them by word of mouth (or randomly clicking internet links), and since I have both words and a mouth, I made this list of World Wide Goodness just for you.

These are in no particular order, and each is worthy of a click of the mouse. So, Dear Reader, here is your present and I hope you enjoy. Each one has brought me happiness, and I hope they will do the same for you. In a season filled with Christmas cookies and holiday meals, these will feed your soul. Enjoy!

Squam Art Workshops -- What a collection of deliciousness here, ranging from an entertaining blog to online classes to in-person retreats. There is magic here. I'm talking about wrap-you-up-in-starlight-and-set-you-atop-a-unicorn magic.

Jennifer Belthoff -- The Love Notes Postcard Project is free and quite the delight. Check out her online journaling courses, too. Such goodness!

The Conscious Caterpillar -- Xan Holyoak uses her delightful writing skills to give the reader a peak into her life in South Australia, where kids, husband, a big heart, and conscious living combine.

Danielle LaPorte -- She is a force of nature who leaves you wondering how you ever got along without her. Whether through her Desire Map book, Truthbombs, or her motivating daily planner, she'll set you on a path to your goals and you'll like it.

Stephanie Levy -- Her Creative Courage course offering guides dreamers of all levels toward those very dreams. Whether professional artist or one who just wants to break out of their shell, this site has several offerings to inspire and encourage.

Brave Girls Club -- Two Idaho-based sisters bring sunshine and comfort to their part of the world and yours with uplifting words, cool crafty projects, and daily reminders of the love of community.

Artsyville (Aimee Dolich) -- I discovered Aimee's work by randomly searching Etsy, and I immediately was drawn to her colorful designs. Several purchases later, the wall of my study is covered with her work, and I often give her designs as gifts, which are always a hit with recipients.

Harriet Goodall -- This Australian artist brings the ancient craft of weaving to a new level here, turning cast-offs of the natural world into unique works of art. Best of all, she teaches it, too! (I was lucky enough to participate in her online weaving class last year and was totally hooked!)

Jean Ellen Whatley -- On my list of Top 10 Books, hers is firmly in that mix. In Off the Leash, she escaped the daily drudgery of job and home to set off on an epic road trip with her dog, where she discovered much more than expected. On her blog, she continues to bring her candid wit and insightful observations to many.

Nicola Taylor -- What happens when you combine a talented photographer and the moors of North Yorkshire England? Pure magic. This self-portrait photographer has a unique manner of bringing her vision to life (and has a great story of how she became a photographer), producing hauntingly beautiful art as a result.

Flora Bowley -- I cannot say her name without an elongated pronunciation, "Flooooooooorrraaaaa". Colorful abstract paintings bring color and shape together in a new way, and best of all, she teaches her technique through classes and books.

Kerry Lemon -- Who says you have to do what everyone else is doing? This illustrator proves through her story and practice that artists can do what they love and make a living.

Momastery -- Glennon Doyle Melton's hilarious and heartfelt blog about life with her family is a must read for moms and non-moms (like me) alike, and this piece that she wrote about kitchen gratitude had me laughing until I hurt.

Elizabeth Gilbert -- Author of Eat Pray Love, Liz is wonderfully accessible to her fans via her Facebook page, where she frequently writes posts that encourage and uplift her readers. Though internationally known, she takes the time to personally interact with her readers on her page.

Hannah Stonehouse Hudson -- If you were anywhere near a computer last year, you surely saw the touching photo of a man floating in the waters of Lake Superior with his aged dog, Schoep. Hannah's lens caught that poignant moment of love, sending her into the international spotlight for her talent. She remains incredibly grounded as she practices her photographic arts from her home base on the shores of Lake Superior. A year would not be complete without her wall calendar of lovely pet photos donning my wall.

Susannah Conway -- Break free from what binds you by soaking in all the loveliness of her website. Whether you subscribe to free emails or enroll in an e-course, the benefits will most assuredly be memorable.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Few Introverted Weeks

Weeks like these last ones make me long for one of two things -- either the long-passed days when people did not talk about religion, politics, or controversy outside their very close circle of friends, or the days when I would play in my backyard sandbox, completely oblivious to the happenings in the outside world. Neither seems to be an option now.

Issues in my country these last weeks have come to the surface which have opened a conversation, albeit a controversial one, and one which many people feel very passionately. Both sides of the issue voice their views, sometimes loudly, sometimes hurtfully, sometimes saddened, sometimes disheartened. Like so many discussions held in recent years, those speaking only wish to be heard while those listening only wish to reply. We end up speaking at each other rather than to each other, and the voices just become a wave of drowning noise. In these living room or office debates, the introvert slips away in the ever-present wish to avoid controversy. 

If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. -- Jon Stewart

This introvert turns to the page, the only place I feel I can finish a thought without interruption. I realize I do not hold the same views as many people I see every day. That is okay. If everyone were the same, the world would be boring. However, I do not believe any debate should include disrespect, anger, hatred, or pain. I do not know how to resolve these issues, but I know anger never solved anything, and I know the only person I can control is myself.

I found comfort in the words of Elizabeth Duvivier this week when she wrote what I had been trying to express but couldn't. Her post Why Each of Us reminds me that change starts inside. Change starts by releasing anger and cultivating a kind spirit. That change starts within each of us. Within me.

This may cause a change in some of my relationships since my introverted self often became quiet during prickly conversations with friends, and that quietness may have been interpreted as tacit agreement. I cannot do it anymore. Carrying the unsaid words has become too burdensome. Though I chose not to be disrespectful to one with an opposing view, I also expect the same in return. So, if you see me walk away, you will know why. I would rather walk away from the conversation and walk in peace, than stay and be surrounded by disrespect.

An interesting observation from conversations of the last several weeks on this very subject of our national turmoil: while dozens of people voiced their opinions to me in varying degrees of passion on the subject, not one person asked my opinion. Not one. That speaks volumes.

I have tried to stay away from anything remotely controversial with this weblog, but this week, my heart was just too heavy with these thoughts. I had to release them. Though I do not expect everyone to agree with me -- far from it -- we can have a conversation. I promise to respect your views, allow you to finish a thought, and listen to understand. I also expect the same. There will be no room in our conversation for anything else.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Her Beautiful Aging

An early Christmas card arrived in the mail from my dear friend, Karin. She and I worked together at a small hotel years ago, where she was the landscaper and I, the front desk clerk. We became fast friends. Two people, opposite in their backgrounds and personalities, found friendship hidden somewhere in our differences. She is blunt with me when needed, and I listen to her advice as if it were delivered by a wise aunt. She is just that -- wise. Now 25 years after our first meeting in the lobby of a small town motel, with me in my navy uniform and she with dirt on her hands, we carry on our friendship mostly through letters, accented by the occasional cup of coffee when we travel through each other's respective towns. 

She has no internet access, a choice she has made to maintain the peaceful life she desires. So, we communicate through letters -- old-fashioned, handwritten letters. Nothing brings a smile to my face faster than the sight of her handwriting peeking through a stack of bills pulled from my mailbox. 

Today, her Christmas card arrived. Hers is always one of the first, if not the first, to arrive, as she is always ahead of the game when it comes to holidays. Her choice of card this year (her choices always unique) was that of a large polar bear sleeping next to a Scandinavian child in full native dress. It is perfectly Karin. Inside the card waited a poetic observation of the aging process by my wise friend. She offers this description:

Not too hot a summer
with occasional rain,
But this aging thing
is affecting my brain.
Dried porridge shows up
on my pajama top
A touch of Alzheimer's --
surely not.
Who is that old woman
in the mirror I see
And where in the world
did I put that key?
Oh - the joy of nipples
now down to my knee.
Everywhere you go,
must stop and pee.
The memory -- it comes
and it goes.
Nice high heels
now hurt my toes.
Offers to help with funeral expenses,
companies send in the mail.
Must try to outwith them,
maybe eat more kale.
But now, am still breathing,
laughing and glad.
So will just carry on,
no need to be sad.

-- Karin Bluemlein, 2014

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Darting, Directionless Walk Through My Week

Several people have asked where I find the topics for my weekly posts. The answer is simple really, in that I do not generally find them, they find me. If an occurrence during the week has a particular element that gnaws at me for a few days, then it likely will be my topic of discussion here. I keep a list, you know, should any one week become overwhelmed with so many thoughts that I simply cannot address them all in one post. That is when the trusty notebook becomes a handy place to house those random thoughts to be used in the future. That notebook also comes in handy when a particularly dry week passes without one useful thought. 

Then there are weeks like this one.

This week was laden with dozens of random thoughts, though not one long enough for an essay. Normally, I start reflecting on Thursday, trying to hammer out what point I will try to make in my weekend post. This week, the only subject (and I use that loosely) is pure randomness. 

In the last couple weeks, American scientists and engineers saw the culmination of a 10-year effort to land a space probe on a comet. The probe, called Rosetta, was hurled through space on a calculated mission to land itself on a small moving target for the purpose of sending information back to its scientist-parents back home. The mission not only will result in never-before-known information but also gives us that collective adventurous sense again of exploring the unknown. At one time in our history, we gathered around our televisions to see a moon landing, watch a man walk on the moon's surface, or see the Space Shuttle return to Earth from a mission into space. We gathered to watch, and in our hearts, we smiled, expanded our chests, and stood a bit taller as we appreciated the hard work and intelligence to accomplish such a remarkable feat. We explored things, we discovered things, we learned things that would change the human existence forever. 

Yet, with Rosetta, we heard only a snippet on the evening news, a few moments of "by the way, this happened," delivered as though one were reading a shopping list or remarking on a funny internet video. The bigger story, the one that had more people talking, was the Twitter antics of a famous-for-being-famous attention seeker who rubbed oil on her south end and shared the picture with the world. [You will find no link to the ridiculousness here.] Her mission? To "break" the internet. 

I weep for our society.

Two weeks ago while in conversation with a colleague, we discussed an issue and how to ensure it did not occur in the future. In two sentences, I explained how at the age and expanse of our current business life, it was likely time to dedicate a person or persons to overseeing the task, which had really grown from a task to a project. As the words left my mouth, a thought in the back of my mind said, "I'd really like to be a part of that." It was a casual conversation, of which this was a minor topic, and we moved to other subjects.

Two days later an announcement was made which laid the groundwork for focusing on this project, and -- boom -- I was asked to be part of it. Who says you cannot send your wishes to the universe and the universe will not respond? Not this girl. 

Hello Universe, I have a few other things I'd like to discuss.

Currently, I am reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir of her trek along the 1,000-mile Pacific Coast Trail. I read this not only because it 1.) is a memoir of finding ones path; and 2.) is a road-trip story (which I love), but I also read it in preparation for the upcoming movie by the same title, starring Reese Witherspoon. I love a good soul-searching story, especially coupled with a road trip story, and one look at my book shelf would clearly illustrate that. 

At the same time, I am closely following the story of Greg Hindy, who has been walking across the United States for over a year. I have written of Greg's journey before (in May 2014) because I am quite taken with anyone who pushes themselves beyond the edge of comfort in order to grow, experience, and pursue that which is beyond current understanding. Greg began his cross-country journey in the summer of 2013, walking from New Hampshire to California over the course of a year. If that were not challenge enough, he did this portion of his trip in silence. Silence. Not one word spoken for a year. Upon arrival in California, he resumed speaking and began the walk back east. He is currently about two-thirds of the way across the country and should be home by Christmas.

I am simultaneously reading Cheryl Strayed's 1995 trek and following Greg Hindy's 2013-2014 trek, both making me feel guilty for any complaints I have when I don't find a parking place close enough to the store.

Where are my hiking boots?

Winter arrives when the sweaters appear.
Last weekend, it snowed here. November 16, snow. That is quite early in the season for my area of the south central U.S.A. which normally sees its first measurable snowfall in January (though, flurries are often seen in December). This is the earliest snowfall I have seen in this area in my life. [I have witnessed snow as early as October 26, but that was when I visited 1,000 miles north, where such things are normal.] A short ruler could have been used to measure last week's snowfall here, which was more than a dusting but less than a half-inch. It formed a hardened shell across the grass quickly, so perhaps it could be called a crusting. Far be it from me to complain about our crusting when many in the northern reaches of my country are buried under six feet of snow. Six. Feet. Of. Snow. That is higher than most people's heads. 

I'll take my crusting.

This week in the U.S. brings Thanksgiving, a time where we are to reflect for what or whom we are thankful. My list is long, and I will spare you, I encourage readers to list in the comments their thoughts of thankfulness. Anything goes, from heartfelt to comical, just let those thankful thoughts flow.

I'll start: 1. I'm thankful you have read this far. 2. I am also thankful that the catch phrase "far out" from the 1970s never made a comeback.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Really Should Pay Better Attention

Right now, I am happily immersed in an e-course called Brave Journaling, offered by Jennifer Belthoff. When the course was announced, I jumped at it quickly because I gained so very much from a course she offered last year. A daily discussion and writing prompt arrives by email each morning, and the well-thought lesson makes me think of topics I rarely encounter, and frankly, a few I avoid. It is refreshing.

In the midst of this year's course, I returned to the pages I wrote in last year's offering, and stumbled upon a quirky memory I had already forgotten which reminded me to pay better attention to all parts of my life, even the ones that seem to be working well. In fact, especially to the parts that seem to be working well. Those will be the ones to sneak up and bite.

Many years ago I stretched myself to sheer exhaustion when I decided to go back to college. The first two years, I attended the local college to complete the foundation courses, knowing all the while I would have to transfer to the University to complete the last two years of my chosen degree. The University was 75 miles away and after a few other life changes occurred, the plan I settled into was to stay in my full-time job, take a full-load of courses, and commute between the two. I managed to schedule my courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays, thus limiting commuting days, while I worked Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and part of Saturday. Looking back, I don't know where I found the energy.

Of course, like I always say, when you decide you cannot go another day without something, you will find a way to make it happen.

The Tuesday-Thursday college scheduled worked up until my last semester. At that point, I needed to take whatever remaining courses I needed to complete the degree, and I was at the mercy of the college's schedule for those classes. That last semester had me commuting five days a week. I would work Monday morning, drive over an hour to the University, then attend classes Monday afternoon before driving back home. Tuesday morning saw me drive in the wee hours of the morning to the University, attend classes, drive over an hour back to work where I would spend the afternoon. That repeated for the next days, punctuated by work on Saturday morning before collapsing Saturday afternoon. Sunday always held studying and laundry. I was exhausted, but the light I could clearly see at the end of the tunnel kept me going.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I began a relationship. Yeah, like I had time for that. Hank* was supportive of my schedule and offered a mental break from the hectic schedule that dominated my life the previous few years.

I was the first woman Hank dated after his divorce, something I would not recommend (but that would fill an entire essay on its own), and we shared a few laughs. As my graduation approached, I planned a 10-day vacation to the beach in Florida as a reward for the achievement, and I invited Hank along, of course.

As the relaxation of the trip set in with classes, tests, and commutes in my rear view mirror, I had a chance for the first time to really see my relationship with Hank. I quickly realized that Hank is the relationship you get when you are too busy to pay attention to what is happening. He wasn't what I needed. Not even close.

The moment came when I rounded the corner to the kitchen in our vacation condominium to find him crying. Now, I do not have a problem with men crying. Grandma dies, dog is terminally ill, just witnessed the birth of a child -- knock yourself out with the tears. I do have a problem with men crying over iced tea. I don't mean crying into their tea, as one would cry into their beer at the local watering hole, but full-on sobbing over the fact that when he tried to make a pitcher of iced tea (and I quote), "It [sob] just [sob] didn't [sniff] turn out [whimper] like yours." Sob, sob, sob . . .

Now, being an emotional being, I realize that quite often tears are triggered by something on the surface when the real reason is something deeper. I asked these questions of Hank. There was nothing deeper. Nothing deeper than the iced tea to warrant this display of watery emotion.

It was in this moment when I realized he was not for me. A week later, it was over. It was easy for me to see that while I was burning the candle at both ends trying to work and go to college, I was too busy to see that this guy was not a good fit. A few days in Florida without distractions let me see the truth of the relationship. Let's face it, I wasn't a good fit for him either. After all, if I really wanted to share my life with him, I would have let him know the secret of adding a bit of baking soda to the  tea** which gave my tea that little somethin'-somethin' he was unable to duplicate.

I doubt the baking soda would have saved the relationship.

*Name changed, like you didn't already guess that if you have read some of my previous posts.
**Two Southern tips to good iced tea: real sugar (nothing artificial) and a teaspoon of baking soda, if making a gallon.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Observations from the Imperfect

I bet even Shakespeare had some bad teenage poetry in his past. Eventually, he learned a few things. We all do. Eventually.
Creek through a pasture, added here just because I like it. It's
serene. (Photo by Georgia Gramlich, 2012)
  1. When someone says, "I'm not _______," believe them the first time. Examples of this are: I'm not the marrying kind. I'm not the kind of person who stays in relationships long. I'm not ready to set a date yet. 
  2. When someone has been on the receiving end of a comment fashioned as those in #1 but still tries to convince the speaker to change, they are either trying to control the person or the situation. Run. They either have control issues and/or are woefully blind to conversational queues, or both. If you have to force it, it's not supposed to happen.
  3. One sincere "thank you" comment is enough. Continuing with a continuing series of "thank you," "oh, thank you so much," and "I just can't thank you enough" for ten minutes is overkill and frankly, becomes rather awkward.
  4. If he doesn't call, it means he doesn't want to talk. Stop creating scenarios of "maybe he's busy," or "perhaps his phone battery died," or "he may have lost my number." This is the 21st century when we have 10,000 ways of communication in any given day. If he wants to talk, he'll find way to contact you. If the phone doesn't ring, it means he's not dialing. ("He" is used generally and not gender-specifically.)
  5. It is never too late to become who you want to be. Everyone of us has taken a wrong turn on the highway of life and felt that we missed a chance at something greater. Stop saying you missed it! If it is the right thing for you, you can get there again. You may have to take a long way around to get back on that road, but it can be done if you want it bad enough. 
  6. Most people have some degree of shyness, so remember you are not alone. A simple "Hi, how are you?" is often all it takes to step out of your shy corner (and help someone else step out of theirs).
  7. Listen to understand, not to reply. Our brains are glorious machines that can formulate answers quickly. This means, you can both listen fully to what is being said and still have the split seconds it takes to form your reply after the speaker has completed his/her thought. I thoroughly believe society is suffering from a lack of listening. 
  8. Learn to take a compliment graciously. Yes, sometimes it is a bit strange to have someone comment positively about you, but responding with "oh, that's not true" can turn the conversation into and back and forth of "oh-yes-you-are-oh-no-i'm-not" which gets old fast. A gentle smile and simple "thank you" will suffice and shows that you respect the person's right to their opinion. It also will keep the compliments coming in the future, which may include a time when you really need to hear one.
  9. Keep your troubles to your close circle. With the onset of social media, many have adopted the delusion that all the world is their close circle of friends, leading them to share much too much of their troubles with the general population. If you have trouble identifying who is in your close circle of friends, it's those folks you could call at 2 a.m. to get you when you have a flat tire or those folks who will check on you directly when you are sick. Sharing your troubles outside this circle just makes you look needy.
  10. Yes, there are exceptions to #9. If your troubles -- your story -- can either be highly entertaining or highly informative to the general public, then share your story. Just be sure your intention does not include a need for sympathy or reaction.
  11. When you want something strongly enough that you cannot go another day without it, you will make it happen. Stop beating yourself up for not pursuing ideas. It may just mean that the idea just did not have a strong enough pull for you to pursue it. 
  12. Learn (or re-learn) the art of the written letter. Email, texts, Facebook messages -- all have their place in modern communication. Yet, the good old fashioned handwritten letter arriving your mailbox still gives the heart a little skip along with an instant smile to the receiver. If writing a full letter is intimidating, postcards work great, too.
  13. Be honest with yourself about life choices and don't just do what society expects you to do. If you don't want to be married, don't get married. If you want to be an artist, then don't force yourself to go to law school. If you are not drawn to be a parent, then don't procreate. If you want to live in the woods in a small cabin, then don't buy the huge house in the suburbs. Believe me, you'll be happier.
  14. Perfection does not exist. Stop trying to achieve it because you never will. Nobody cares if you don't look 16 when you are 45. Be awesomely imperfect and imperfectly awesome.
  15. Learn to enjoy the little things. A warm cup of coffee, a sunrise, reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show," a nap under a quilt your Momma made, watching clouds, or listening to music -- Notice the little things that make you happy because on your bad days, you can turn to them to keep you afloat.
  16. You cannot spend your way to happiness. While shopping, travelling, and going to events have their place, immersing yourself in these activities because you are covering up (or more likely, ignoring) something troubling in your life is a sure way to not only make yourself unhappy but also to become laden with debt. Stop trying to fill that void in yourself with stuff. 
  17. Most of what you need to know about a person can be obtained by observing and listening. Notice that speaking is not listed. That's because when you are speaking, you are not learning.
  18. Make room for something creative in your life because it truly is important. Remember how lost you got in coloring as a child? Building forts? Making paper dolls? Who told us we had to stop that? Find a creative outlet that makes you happy. Maybe you like to bake, or you enjoy working in the yard. Perhaps you like to sing with the radio or write in a journal. Wood carving? Community theater? Do something just for you. We don't expect you to be the next Picasso or Beyonce (but you could be). Just do something that is for pure enjoyment and creativity.
  19. Take a nap. It's okay. Don't be ashamed to relax and rejuvenate on a Saturday afternoon with a good old nap. You don't have to be set on "go" all the time. No one is keeping score. Of course, if you find yourself needing naps all the time, you might consider seeing a doctor, but the occasional one is yours for the taking. Enjoy.
  20. Be mindful that not everyone is like you, not everyone will like you, and you don't have to like everyone. There is no need to rant about any of it. Just remember that if everyone on this planet were exactly the same, it would be a really dull place. We're talking so m-i-n-d-n-u-m-b-i-n-g-l-y boring that dry toast would look like birthday cake.
  21. If you choose to disassociate yourself with an entire segment of the population because they share one common characteristic, you are going to miss out on some great people. People are individuals not demographics.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Life Enchanted

Photo from State Rhode Island
Division of Parks and Recreation,
She captured a photo of the entrance to Lincoln Woods Park in Rhode Island, similar to the one seen here. A light morning mist enveloped the covered bridge, wrapping it in both a welcoming invitation and a cautious mystery. She described how she and her dogs were nearing one of their favorite places to explore, which was a daily ritual in their world. Daily morning walks were often punctuated by ethereal photographs posted for her friends, making one wonder where on earth this enchanted world existed, this world where she lived. Whether the day’s exploration was along a beach or a wooded path, her dogs walked and played on the trails that spilled out before them, while she followed along in rapt step. Each day was remembered with photographs that seemed to record a dreamlike state and not one of consciousness. It simply could not be real.

But it was. It is.

After my friend Elizabeth posted her misty photo of the covered bridge leading to Lincoln Woods Park, I teased her about living in some enchanted wonderland, only accessible by magical shoes or an ancient incantation. An outside observer might, at first glance, be hard pressed to believe that places like these existed, much less a person who seemed to find these places every day of her life. Every single day. The over-stressed, over-scheduled, rush-rush person in our society, of which there are oh-so many (myself included), would likely brush off the idea of such a world as this even existing, as they dash off to the next meeting or event or errand in their frayed-at-the-edge lives. Meanwhile, Elizabeth seems to float through her mornings with a sense of balance and comfort, as indicated by her morning photographs shared with friends.

What is her secret?

Though I have not spoken with her on this specific topic, over time I believe have discovered her secret. Likely, had she simply given me the answer, I would have poo-pooed the idea like so many others, saying something like, “Who has time for that?!?” But over a year of observing, the answer wrapped around me like a warm blanket, unassuming and comforting in its quiet presence.

Ready for it?

She does not wait for beauty to appear in her life. She sees beauty in everything.

Whether it is the way the autumn leaves land on the water or the song of a bird sitting in a tree, she finds something of beauty in each day. Even on the worst days, something of beauty can be noticed. I am reminded of the massive thunderstorms we get in my part of the country, and how the morning after a storm, the sky is as blue and as clear as one could imagine. Even as we clean up the downed limbs and other destruction from a night of wind and rain, the sky is at its most beautiful in those moments.

For many of us, our lives are a push and pull of schedules and responsibilities, a situation that can easily lead us down the rabbit hole of negativity. Yet, I challenge you to take one minute each day – or start with 30 seconds – and notice something beautiful in your life. Put down the phone, step back from the computer screen, and notice something positive.

I’ll start with something simple:  (1) I like the dove gray color of the walls in my study where I write this. The color is soothing. (2) My two dogs are asleep on their quilt on the couch and are curled up tight against each other. George is snoring slightly. (3) I get to write to you every week – and sometimes you read it – and sometimes you reply. (4) The weather is good today so I’ll be able to winterize the yard, spending the day in the sun and fresh air. (5) The woven illuminated heart hanging over my desk still amazes me – I made that!

See? One minute and I got five. They are simple, but they prove to me the existence of beauty in my life, which can serve to buoy up the bad days when needed.

Go find the beauty in your day. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Under the Weather

It's a curious thing, this place where we get our commonly used phrases and think nothing of their origins. This last week, though, left me with a lot of time to think, especially on the particular phrase used in the title of this post: under the weather. 

A quick bit of research showed that it originally began as a nautical term used to describe one who is seasick from a water voyage and is sent below deck to alleviate the symptoms. Being below deck, and thereby under the weather creating the rough seas, one could more easily recuperate. Over the last ten days or so, though, I was under the weather of my sinuses which began their voyage with simple seasonal allergies and navigated quickly into a sinus infection that left my head swimming in nothing nearly as pleasant as ocean waters. It was not pretty.

After nearly three days on the couch, hoping that it was just the common cold from which I suffered and nothing more, I finally dragged myself to the doctor's office, a place I visit only in the most dire conditions. An hour in the waiting room was soon met with a friendly nurse who truly loved her job and made all my doctor's-office-fears subside quickly. A quick visit with a new doctor was met with "Oh, my God!" as she looked in my ears with that ear probe thingy. It's not a phrase you hope to hear from your doctor since you assume they have seen everything and are rarely moved to vocal exclamations as such. Apparently, my head was on the verge of explosion from all the infectious goodies it held. Two big shots in my tushy, a prescription for three-days of antibiotics, and I was out the door in just under 90 minutes. Within three hours, I already felt a positive difference. 

The time I spent away from my normal routine did allow more than ample time to reflect on some interesting, and yet also some unusual, points. My first realization was that the USA Network has enough Law and Order reruns to last from now until infinity, not that there's anything wrong with that. That was quickly seconded by the note that TBS Network has a similar number of episodes of The Big Bang Theory, which, again, I would not label as a negative. When sleep did finally visit itself upon me, only when reaching the most restful point of the REM cycle did violent coughing episodes arrive and remove any hope of a continuous night of rest. 

I must say that I did give thanks several times for having a job that allowed me to take time away without worrying about my paycheck. I realize my good fortunate in that benefit and know that not all people have the same peace of mind. It is something I do not take for granted. Quickly on its heels is the fact that the health insurance I enjoy is another good fortune that I do not take for granted. For many years in my past, I had no health insurance and know all too well the fear facing every day, hoping nothing happened to cause me to need medical care. It is a fear that far too many people face every day, and I believe that affordable health care should be available to every person, every where, regardless of employment, social, or financial status. Unfortunately, it is an argument that is still ongoing in my country, and one I do not see being resolved soon. How one of the most powerful countries in the world can fall short of finding resolution to a basic human need is one that befuddles me daily.

Beyond these realizations from my week on the mend, I saw so many other simple reminders of the good in life. There is nothing like hacking up a lung and praying for a speedy death to relieve you of your couch-bound misery to bring to light the blessings that befall me every day. 
  • I have access to a magical medical injection that sent armies of liquid warriors through my veins to attack the infectious invaders of my sinuses. These little warriors rock!
  • A smile from the nurse who patted my arm assuredly and said simply, "Now, let's get you fixed."  
  • A new doctor who brushed off the formality when I called her by her title, saying, "Just call me Robin."
  • A job that allows me days off to get well and an employer who knows I'll stay up with my work.
  • Sweet text messages from friends, asking how I am feeling.
  • Two incredible furry children who never left my side and kept their requests for attention to a minimum while I recuperated, resolving to accept a pat on the head as full payment for their help.
  • Beautiful autumn weather that gave me a few minutes of pleasantry when I was periodically able to emerge from my cocoon.
  • Electronic connections to the outside world that not only allowed me to keep up with my work, but also not feel so isolated.
  • The mailman, who brings mail from all over the world, to my door, six days a week. Have you ever thought how amazing that really is?
Each of these day-to-day occurrences could easily, and often are, taken for granted, but shouldn't we take a little extra time to recognize how amazing these things are? The creature comforts on which we rely each day are expected, but take away one -- or two, or three -- of them, and their absence becomes quite noticeable. Then imagine people in other parts of the world -- or even just down the street -- who may not have the same things. Talk about perspective. 

It reminds me of a story my dad used to tell me of his time growing up on the south side of Chicago. He often saw one of his neighbors following the train tracks and picking up lumps of coal that had fallen from the train. He often helped the neighbor gather the coal in her bucket. He saw it as some sort of game and began to try to find more coal each time he played this game with her. He did not realize until years later that it wasn't a game. The young girl gathered the cast off coal from the trains for her family to burn for heat in their home. It was during the Great Depression, and though my father's family was able to purchase fuel to heat their home, the little girl's family was not as fortunate. The coal they gathered was the difference between survival and freezing. 

So many of the little things we experience in our lives can be overlooked due to their size, but on the whole, they add up to more than we could ever imagine.

Notice those small positives in your life. Realize they are special and that not everyone gets them. Be thankful for them as they come and never take them for granted. Then, when you realize how much those little nuggets of coal warm your life, start giving them away, and give some warmth to someone else's world.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Perfect World

The day begins not with screaming alarm clocks and unrelenting snooze buttons, but only when the sleeper is aroused to wakefulness by the soft kiss of sunlight and the fill tilt of rejuvenation. The smell of fresh coffee wafts through the morning air and greets me in its already prepared state. My ever-patient dogs then accompany me outside where we walk along a garden path spilling with fresh blooms in all the colors of the rainbow. 

Clocks do not exist and we move by the light of the sun and the pull of the earth. Hammocks are placed at random points in the landscape, and napping is encouraged and respected. Neighbors wave a cheerful "Hello" while tending to their yards. Postal trucks only deliver good news to mailboxes, and their engines, along with all other vehicles, play soft classical music instead of the grinding of a motor. 

Conversations are meaningful, and everyone is allowed to finish their sentences without interruption by someone else's impatience. Handwritten letters replace e-mail as epistolary treasures, and the rules of capitalization and punctuation are commonplace since one never dreams of writing a 15-line run-on sentence. An old social convention of refraining from discussion topics of politics or religion outside of close relationships is revered once again. Race, creed, gender, color, and sexual orientation are seen as glorious characteristics that benefit the beauty of the human race rather than used as weapons for one group to feel superior to another. Everyone is given six weeks a year to explore other lands and connect with people outside their familiar circles.

Children never know an emotion more painful than the sting of being told by mindful parents that they must finish their school work before they can go play in the safe communities and adventurous countrysides that surround their homes. Classes of music, art, and writing are held in the same regard as science, mathematics, and history. Education is available at no cost for all who desire it because society understands the high cost of an uninformed population. Competition motivates individuals to strive for improvement rather than acts as a means to degrade another. 

Sunsets are celebrated events with daily gatherings of fellowship, appreciation, conversation, and good food. Laughter really is the best medicine, along with moderate amounts of chocolate. The word 'love' is saved for describing personal relationships and not for one's attachment to a brand of shampoo or floor cleaner. Sleep comes easily and is always restful. Moonlight always holds a little mystery and a twinge of magic. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Turf Wars

I have an armadillo. No, not like a pet or a novelty purchase, I have an armadillo living in my backyard. Well, at least at night he lives there, randomly digging three-inch holes in the soil and making my yard look like a miniature mining town from the 19th century. He's quite industrious.

When the small holes began to appear, I originally blamed the neighbor’s cat, who has a penchant for using my yard as a litter box and frantically digging to cover her treasures. As the holes began to multiply exponentially, I wondered what in the hell that cat could be eating to have a need to relieve herself that often. Only when looking out the patio door at 4 a.m. on a sleepless night did I see the real culprit of the mini-bunkers in my yard was the helmeted critter with a face only a mother could love. I stepped onto the patio and rattled a chair against the concrete to startle it, and it scampered off to the other neighbor’s storage building and shimmied underneath. I’ll admit it was hard to be mad at the thing after seeing what it looked like trying to run.

He’s after the grubs, the same grubs that the moles targeted in past years, leaving long lines of the rodent underground railroad just below the surface of the lawn. The moles, when they had control of my yard, burrowed through the soil and raised little mounds just high enough to hit the lawnmower blades and erupt in a cloud of dust during the weekly mows. They must be more showy creatures to ensure their presence is announced with a dirt version of fireworks. I was glad the moles did not appear this year, and my yard remained relatively level, devoid of the crisscrossing molehills.

Then the holes began to appear. They were unassuming at first – the size of a lemon here or a grape there -- with the telltale sprays of dirt around the edges indicating something dug it out. Now they have reached the size of grapefruits as the armadillo becomes much more destructive in his nightly excavation. Perhaps he’s bringing friends I have yet to see.

Yet, through all of this, I’m not complaining. I’m observing. Honestly, I am not so connected to my lawn that I must maintain it in a pristine state. I do not play croquet out there or have kids running hither and yon, I simply walk the dogs and occasionally enjoy the view from a comfortable place on the patio. It does not have to be perfect. I mow it, I trim the edges, and I weed the flower beds. I am neither a trashy yardsmith nor a meticulous one.

And I can share.

Sure, I could get rid of the food source the armadillo is so desperately searching, or I could find a permanent means to end the critter’s nightly forays for good. Or, I could just accept the fact that I live rurally, and part of that means sharing my yard with whatever critter needs to be there at the time. He's not hurting anything, really. In a perfect world I could have a pointed conversation with the varmint, convincing him that the pasture behind my house would be better suited for his midnight forages. Since that time will never come, I chose to simply live with it. I chose to share the space with this armadillo, despite my dislike of his housekeeping abilities, and know that someday, he will move to another place where grubs are plentiful and the dirt is more suited to his taste. I chose to coexist with something a bit unappealing now, knowing that someday, the scene will change. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Little Texas

Travel -- how I enjoy that word. Six letters have the ability to captivate and transport the speaker (and listener) to someplace other than where one currently stands. The state of transformation, from one place to another, from one existence to the next, is a marvel of across all the years of history. This week took me on a business trip that passed through Dallas Fort Worth airport, a place I have made airplane connections many times. DFW is a comfortable airport to me. I know my way around; it does not frighten me. I always schedule a long layover there because it affords me the time to absorb as much Texas as I can before I depart. And I enjoy all that is Texas. 

My affection for the Lone Star State began some years ago when I accepted an educational opportunity that allowed me to live in Dallas for two weeks every summer for three years. Those collective six weeks gave me the pleasure of drinking in as much Texas culture as possible from 'yes ma'ams' to salsa to cowboy boots. All were well received. Whenever I pass through Texas, I feel a bit Texan, like I just slipped on a worn pair of Wranglers and scuffed my heels through the Texas dirt. But mine is a temporary citizenship, gained when I cross the Red River and surrendered as I depart. Even if only for a few hours, there will be TexMex and my southern accent will get a little thicker.

But in this airport, as with all airports, it's the people-watching that brings the most enjoyment. Here, it is noticing the gentle mix of business woman and cowboy, all mingling about as the scurry from gate to gate. The blending of corporate and country is seamless and intriguing. Social classes are blended in airports, these bastions of transportation, mixing all into the class known only as 'traveler.' The only indication of their lives outside this airport is their choice of shoes. 

Boots, sneakers, flip-flops, sky-high heels -- all are seen in this mix of travelers and often leave me wondering why that particular choice of footwear was chosen. Personally, I would not wear shoes that would leave me barefooted as I passed through security -- socks are a must for me -- but each person has their own level of acceptance. Quick movement is necessary (especially in DFW where last minute gate-changes are standard) so low heels make my steps quicker. Something with a grip to the sole makes those rushed steps between gates more assured than slick-soled choices. But, each traveler makes their own list of must-haves.

No matter the journey, nor the destination, it is important for me to find small pleasures along the way -- comfortable shoes, an interesting view, a TexMex burrito with an amazing queso blanco. It makes any road traveled a more tolerable, and if practiced diligently, the journey becomes equally as enjoyable than the destination. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Observer

Photo from Harrison Convention and  Visitors 
Bureau website at
I sat in the historic Lyric Theater in Harrison, Arkansas, one afternoon as the seats filled with exuberant patrons waiting for the matinee performance. This small community was filing in to see the local theater troop perform the comedy Red Velvet Cake Wars. People waved to each other across the aisles and mingled to discuss the who's and what's of the past week. It was indeed a community atmosphere. I sat in the back of the hall in a quiet seat on an empty row, far from the chatter of the crowd. The world seemed to swirl just beyond my reach while I took my non-participatory station, out of the action. This station is familiar to me, and one I take in most events -- the observer.

I watch the crowd from a short distance and wonder what it is like to be amid the conversation, shoulder pats, friendly laughs, and half-hugs. It is a feeling I have only rarely known and yet quickly realized was one of discomfort for me. I am better suited as the observer, silently watching the parade, noting its characters and plot twists, but never enveloped by the noise. And when the swirl of action proves enough, my station gives me smooth access to the side exit where I can take my leave into the stillness.

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Friday, September 12, 2014


Earlier this week, I dusted off some old thoughts after receiving a writing prompt in an email. The prompt, which is intended to get the creative juices flowing, simply said, "Home is . . . " with the instruction to complete the thought. The moment I read it, I wrote without hesitation:

Home is not a place on a map or a spot to keep our bed. It is that one peaceful place where we are most ourselves and our spirit comes alive. 

The thought of home had been on my mind the previous week as my heart missed the Wisconsin Northwoods, a place of peace, comfort, lakes, and pine. I have never lived in Wisconsin, but childhood family vacations took me there often, so often that I have a familiarity with the area as if it were my hometown. But it is not. It is a place of childhood vacations, carefree days, and a sense of belonging. 

A simple dock and a quiet lake in northern Wisconsin.
I have spent the better part of 20 years searching for a place that felt like home. Many places have given me that serene feeling at my core that sure felt like home, felt like I could stay forever, though oddly few of those places were ones where I actually lived. Most vacations spots had me daydreaming by Day 3 of the possibilities of moving to ______ (enter vacation spot here) and living the life I always dreamed. It seemed easier to picture myself somewhere else rather than in whichever town held my mailing address. Likely the repetitive days in the familiar were not nearly as captivating as the spontaneous days in the fleeting.

Last week I thought about a little town in the Northwoods of Wisconsin where my family vacationed when we were children. It is a small town about an hour south of Lake Superior and nestled into the sweet-smelling pine trees of the area. The town is not large, and other than being perched on an island in a small lake, it is rather nondescript. It is a small town like so many others which should not hold any special powers unique to its city limits. And yet it does to me. What sets that town apart from thousands of others is the simple fact that it holds my childhood memories. It holds those moments of freedom, when life had no boundaries farther than where your little legs could take you, and where the world stopped turning for those few days a year you spent there. The older I get, the sweeter the memory.

Looking down Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
But I've felt this unusual pull toward several places in my life, though it is no surprise that each of these were felt on vacation. I remember standing in the early morning in Townsend, Tennessee, looking out over the Smoky Mountains layered with mist and solidly believing in that moment I wanted to live there. My first visit to Destin, Florida, was after my college graduation, and we spent the last two days gathering real estate guides and employment bulletins, determined we were going to move. I stood below a train platform in Brooklyn, New York, and looked down the street thinking that I had never felt more comfortable than that moment, right there. 

I have never felt that much passion about any place I actually lived.

Back in 1946, my father's family moved from the south side of Chicago to that small town in Wisconsin I described earlier. The change was quite an adjustment for my father, only a teenager at the time, moving from one of the largest cities in the United States to a town of less than 500 people. In the decades since then, that area of Wisconsin saw many families from Chicago move to the area, hoping to escape the trappings of big-city life.

"They think they can get away from their problems by moving, but they just bring their problems with them," my father once said. His words come back to me anytime I have these wild ideas on vacation of packing my stuff to move to whichever place I am visiting. But whatever unease I may feel at the time in my daily life would inevitably come with me, making any new place just as uneasy as the former.

While I thought of the Northwoods last week, I did indeed wonder what it would be like to live there. The old habit of wishing to move to the vacation spot is a tough one to shake. Yet as the years click off, I find more truth to my father's words, and realize that that sense of home I have searched all my life is not a place on a map, but rather is a spot of contentment within me. Perhaps that is why completion of the writing prompt came so quickly to me -- I am finding my way to that home.

Years ago, Jim Harrison wrote of the special draw of childhood vacation spots in an article where he cautions parents to choose vacation destinations carefully because that is where the children will likely chose to live as adults. The memories of their youthful happiness often draws children back to those places, and the parents will follow in their waning years. This, he describes, is the reason he and his wife now live in Montana, having moved from Michigan. They took their kids to Montana for vacations, then the memories summoned the kids to move there as adults. Jim and his wife soon followed. Apparently my occasionally inkling to move to my vacation spot is reality for others.

The definition of home can have many variations, perhaps as many as there are people. The only thing I know for sure is that home should be a place where one is free to be their most authentic self, where no masks are worn to shield from judging eyes, and where the spirit awakens. A place such as this may only reside deep within the mind, but as long as it exists, we always have a spot to call home.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10

September 10, 2001: I just put my boyfriend on a plane from Tulsa to San Francisco. The next morning I drove my usual 75-mile commute to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I had a day full of classes at the University. I normally arrived on campus early and spent the morning at Mullens Library, catching up on reading before Tax Accounting began at 9 a.m. About 8:40 a.m. I began my walk to the business building under a clear blue sky, my steps light and quick, while my thoughts were transitioning from the last few days with Frank and into the next few hours with Tax. It was a Tuesday.

Only a few years prior, the Walton Family (yes, that Walton Family of Wal-Mart), made a $50 million donation to the University of Arkansas business college. At the time, it was the largest single gift to a University in history, and the building was soon renamed the Walton College of Business. The next years saw a tremendous improvement in the facilities, primarily in technology, with many classrooms receiving upgrades to presentation systems. The new systems were pretty great, I must say, projecting computer screens, videos, television, and documents onto an enormous screen across the front of the room. At the time, it was the cutting edge. 

When I entered my first classroom, a handful of students were scattered among the seats. The normally blank big screen was filled with a television broadcast from CNN, reporting on an unusual occurrence on the New York skyline. A plane had hit a skyscraper in what was believed at the moment to be a terrible accident.

As subsequent students arrived, each announced a new bit of information gleaned from an outside source, and the truth of the day began to take shape. The classroom was full and the teacher had arrived, but rather than beginning class at the scheduled 9 a.m., we continued to watch the news, all eyes fixed on the enormous screen.

The New York skyline, prior to 2001
At 9:03 a.m. we watched the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. The room let out a pronounced gasp, and I remember tears rolling down my face as I, and everyone else, realized this was no accident. Someone from my left handed me a tissue, and I collected myself quickly. 

I was 34 at the time and surrounded by a sea of 20-year-olds in this college classroom. A wave of panic began to fill the room and fell from their lips. I knew I had to remain calm. As the older student in the group, a maternal instinct kicked into gear and I felt a responsibility to remain stable and strong for them. Their youthful innocence about the world had just died before their eyes. So had mine.

After tax class was dismissed, I found a quiet place at the end of the hall and called Frank. He was still sleeping, and after he turned on the television, we tried to keep each other calm in the midst of wondering what all this meant.

Yet in all the reflection that this anniversary brings -- where you were, how you felt, what you saw -- I will never forget the way we, as a society, were in the aftermath. In our collective shock and grieving, we were kinder to each other. In the days and weeks that followed, we hugged more. We listened. We patted each other on the shoulder and asked with all sincerity, "How are you doing?" The preciousness of life had played out on television right before us, as we watched and waited for the answer to our one big question, "Why?" But no real answers came. Not ones that eased our pain.

In the 13 years that have passed, the sting has faded, and I find myself trying to focus on how kind we were to one another in the weeks that followed, though an aptly timed photograph or news report can quickly transport me back to that very moment in tax class. That memory will never leave me, but I would rather remember how we treated each other in the aftermath. We were connected in our grief and bonded in our healing. We were, for a few brief moments in the fabric of time, family.

I fear as the sharpness of the tragedy fades, our shared comforting in the aftermath may fade as well. The explosion of the internet has made brave souls out of cowards, as long as they have the shield of anonymity behind a computer screen. Just look at the comments section to, well, nearly anything posted online to see the demise of human conversation. Families in restaurants are sure to clear plates out of the way so each party has a spot for their smart phone to rest on the table, just in case that emergency tweet or status update arrives. Heck, some do not wait for updates to arrive and choose to actively post on the internet during conversations. (I am continually dumbstruck at the number of people who brush off a conversation with the real people in front of them in exchange for the digital people in their hands.) I'd like to think that this type of scenario would not have played out in the days following September 11, even if the technology were available at the time, because we would have been too busy hugging each other. (I'm likely wrong there, but it's nice to think.)

All in all, I chose to remember the kindness we showed each other in the days that followed the attacks. To me, that feeling is worth revisiting. The empathy in those days is worth pursuing. That, and a time machine to take us back to September 10, 2001.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Chapter 48

On my short list of favorite books, you will find Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert near the top. My softcover copy is worn and pliable, a sign of several late night scrambles to its pages to find a quote or scene for reference. I love the feel of my copy, soft and comfortable like a favorite pair of jeans worn to the perfect point of contentment. It smells of hope and healing, and always reminds me of how far I've come since the first time I read it. My first encounter with the book was when my personal life shared similarities with the author's, leaving each word to resonate within me like a tuning fork.

If asked my favorite part of the book, I would quickly answer, "Chapter 48." Period. I learned more from that four-page chapter than from any other written work in my life. Whereas some people can quote religious scripture by chapter and verse, I have that ability with this one. (I can quote religious scriptures too, don't worry, but this is the modern-era book of which I can do the same.) Admittedly, my recitation practice has been centered on this one chapter, but with words so striking, I find it is all I need. When old friends  of the past begin to haunt my present, I rush to page 149 and read the words of Richard from Texas, as told by the author, Liz, during the beginnings of their friendship in India. At this point, Liz is pining over a failed romantic relationship and having trouble letting go. 

"Problem is, [Liz], you can't accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life. You're like a dog at the dump, baby -- you're just lickin' at an empty can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you're not careful, that can's gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable." -- Richard from Texas (Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert)

I often wonder if Richard from Texas had any idea that his words would spread across the world, healing more than just Liz, but also me, and assuredly thousands of others who have read his words in her book. Wise words come in many forms and can be found in unexpected places, but when they are uttered -- and better yet, heard -- they have the potential to bridge a gaping chasm in the earth, as well as hearts. Richard built the bridge, and Liz published the map so people could find it. 

And I thank both of them frequently because I found it. I got it. The words make sense to me and pull me back to reality when I need a good stern verbal kick-in-the-butt. In the chapter, Richard explains how some people are not meant to be in our lives forever, no matter how much we may wish they were. We fight and tug and strain to keep them with us, but they go. They go by way of choice or circumstance, but they indeed go, and we are left standing in the memories. At the moment of the separation of our lives, we wonder what went wrong, what did we do? But we didn't do anything but live in this world where things happen when they need to happen, whether we like the result or not.

As I rushed to get out of the house on time this morning, I sped down the highway on my seven mile drive to work. Traffic was soon slowed by what I assumed was a school bus, since I knew when I left the house that I had left too late to get ahead of the bus that travels that road. I peered into the distance ahead and could not see the yellow bus on the horizon, but only saw dozens of cars moving at a glacial pace. After a few moments, I approached the vehicle causing the bottleneck and smiled at the sight of our local and legendary farmer, Mule*, hauling a pick-up truck full of pumpkins to town. The truck was laden with so many melons, it rolled at a pronounced angle, the rear bumper only inches from the pavement. I immediately smiled upon identifying the obstruction and my ire dissipated.

You see, Mule impedes the flow of traffic a few times a year but as any resident will tell you, it is worth it. In early summer, he hauls his locally-grown watermelons to town where they are sold at several markets. In late summer and early fall, it's pumpkins, like today. Occasionally, he simply pulls his truck into a parking lot while people nearly fall over themselves trying to get to him to purchase melons. He is part of our vernacular here. He is part of our culture and history. At certain times of the year his movements on the highway signal the changing of the season. Everything happens in its season, including the transport of melons.

It's the only time I see Mule, even though he lives in my part of the county. He's there at the changing of the seasons and then he is gone. But when it is time for him to come around again, when the time is right, he will appear. Much like everyone else in our lives.

Some people are not meant to be in our lives forever. Their purpose is to be a mirror back to us, showing us what we need to see in ourselves before moving along. At times, folks may enter, exit, and reenter our lives numerous times, always leaving us wondering why they left in the first place. But, you see, they were not meant to stay. People stay in our lives for as long as we continue to learn from them, whether that learning comes from being shown what to do or what not to do. All of life is learning, and all people in our lives are teachers.

Our hearts are better served realizing the fragility of relationships and being comfortable in recognizing our temporary connections are as ever-changing as the seasons. Everything happens in its season, and though we may pine for spring to emerge to save us from our winter chill, it is spring that decides when the time is right. And until that moment, we can only remember the beauty of springs-gone-by with a smile and a momentary word of appreciation spoken on the wind.

*Oh yes, that is his name. Well, nickname, but like the one-name celebrities of Cher or Madonna, Mule is famous in these hills both for his produce and his storytelling. 

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Throw 'Em a Curve

I was 17 when my father put me behind the wheel of our family car and directed me toward Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago. My drivers license was barely cool from the laminater after learning to navigate the rural roads near our home in north central Arkansas, but Dad used this family vacation as a learning moment for my driving career.

"If anything will teach a new driver how to stay in his lane, it's this road," he said. I nervously entered the stretch of urban street that skirted Lake Michigan, amid mid-day traffic and four very full lanes of moving vehicles, all cruising at least 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. The road curves right and left along the shoreline, prompting a new driver to be attentive and not encroach another's lane. 

"Speed up so you aren't run over," Dad added. I gradually accelerated to the flow of traffic, aware that I was speeding at my father's guidance. I could see the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in the distance and felt the charge of excitement that always accompanies the view of an iconic city skyline. My hands were tight around the steering wheel while I held the car's position centered between the lines of my lane. Please don't ask me to change lanes, I thought.

"You'll need to get over so you can exit soon," Dad said. Dammit. I am doing just fine in this lane and now you want me to merge?!? I must have checked my mirrors three times before tentatively easing into the right lane and exiting onto a downtown street. I am sure I let out an audible sigh of relief upon leaving that tense stretch of road in my rear view mirror, but that day has never left me. Since that moment, I have been very aware of the skills needed to drive consistently in the center of my lane, even in a curve. Immersion learning courtesy of Chicago traffic.

At the time, I thought I was learning good driving skills, something my father stressed as necessary before going out into the real world without the protective eyes of parents. I often heard him comment on other drivers during our many road trips, usually noting a driver's inability to maintain consistent speed or general lack of driving courtesy.

"You are not the only one out here," he would say while we were on one of my training drives. "Other drivers depend on you to be consistent and aware."

He said a mouthful.

Two years ago this month, I bore witness to two personal traumatic events which coincidentally occurred the same night but hundreds of miles away from each other. One was the end of a long-term marriage; the other was the suicide of a health care provider accused of misconduct. One was connected to my family; one was connected to a friend. Upon hearing the news of both of these events only hours apart, I was gob smacked to say the least. I was shocked and hurt, angry and sucker-punched. I was on the second-level of the storm, not the initial person affected, and still I felt as broken and depleted as if it had happened to me. When I looked to the two people first affected by these dual traumas that is when I saw what real pain looked like. These two people, each suffering from their separate blows, lay crumpled in heaps -- both physically and emotionally -- neither in any condition to navigate even one step before them. 

I had no idea how to help them, other than to just be there. After mopping up my emotional reaction to the dual events, I felt the only thing I could do was to stay in my lane and look out for the others. Remaining consistent -- reliable -- was the best thing I could do to help my family and my friend. Sometimes, it's all you have.

And it's not such a bad thing to offer. I may not have the right words to wash away a friend's pain; I may not have the answers to explain the unexpected occurrences of the world. I may not have much insight to that. But I can be a constant. I can be the consistent one who steers the day between the lines and watches out for the others on the road. I may not understand the pain another feels in these moments, but I can be the constant place on whom they can rely to get the normal stuff done while their worlds fall apart and come back together. It may not be much, but I can keep it between the lines and maintain a constant speed. 

Every evening on my drive home from work, I round a long curve on the highway where there are always several cars in each lane. It's no Lake Shore Drive, but it is two narrow southbound lanes of a U.S. highway that always weeds out the adept drivers from the fearful ones. Some cannot stay in their lane and cause a few tense moments as they slip into the next lane and near another vehicle. Some slow down in such fear of the curve that they impede the flow of traffic and soon have a bevy of frustrated drivers behind them, honking and swearing. Still others show a keen ability to navigate the curve at full speed, never budging from the middle of their assigned lane. They are the ones to watch. They are the constants. Throw them a curve and they plow right through it, focused and determined. They are aware of the others and compensate for the errors of those nearby. But they stay in the middle, centered between those two painted lines. Predictable, perhaps. Consistent, yes. But in the midst of a trauma, an upheaval, a tragedy, isn't it nice to have a place of refuge where you know what to expect?