Sunday, December 30, 2012

Taking Stock at Year's End


A week ago, I saw this blog post from Laurie Gerber on The Huffington Post. They have an intriguing page called, GPS For the Soul and I'm a regular reader.

Gerber is a life coach and had a clever post title, "5 Easy Steps to End the Year With a Bang."  (see link above)

The idea of a new year is obviously a human construct but is an illustration for a fresh start, for new beginnings, "for another chance to get it right," as Oprah says.

Gerber's five steps include taking the time to write a  list of all your accomplishments for the past year. She is adamant that the list be as long as possible and to take the time to really celebrate what you have done. Perhaps acquiring the habit of checking the car's oil on a regular basis isn't worthy of being on your list of accomplishments, but it is on mine. List them all, regardless of how life-changing you may deem them to be.

It felt really good to look over the list I had written. There were some things on that list that were truly transformational, i.e. I am debt-free, save my mortgage, for the first time in 20 years. I put myself "out there" and met new people who have been trusted and invaluable guides and companions on my journey this year. I looked a lot of fear in the eyes and the fear backed down. I marveled at the growth my children have made as individuals and our growth as a very close family.

The next step in the exercise is to write out the failures, the things I wanted to happen but they didn't happen... after the high of the list of accomplishments, this list wasn't as painful as it might have been. Yeah,  there were several things that I left undone and unsaid and things that I wish I hadn't done and said, too. It's all a part of being human which means we make mistakes and we are not perfect. I can apply that very easily to just about everyone else on the planet, but it is much harder to apply that to ourselves, isn't it? Giving myself grace and forgiveness for my inevitable missteps is a lesson I am learning.

Gerber then instructs us to write what we want to acknowledge about all of this, our successes and our failures. What does it all mean?

And then.

We are to set fire to the whole thing. Burn it up. Emotionally, it is a pretty final way to let go of it all. Spiritually, it's putting it out to the universe to release it for us. Physically, it is a way to really and truly watch the wheat and the chaff of the past year go up in smoke.

From there, Gerber suggests creating a vision board for what we hope for in the coming year. Our aspirations, goals, dreams... maybe it's a photo of a vacation place we are saving toward. Maybe it includes words that represent feelings or values. Maybe it is the name of a friend or a family member we want to especially spend more time with this year.

Taking stock and organizing life is a popular activity at this time of year. While we are busy concentrating on the junk drawer in the kitchen, the basement, the garage, the coat closet... maybe taking stock internally and dealing with the clutter in our hearts and minds is as important, possibly even more so, than the box we have set aside to take to Goodwill.

However you choose to end 2012, I hope you do so surrounded by those you love with someone special to kiss at midnight.

"Cheers to the New Year and another chance to get it right."  ~ Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Home

It's December 23 and many of us are focused on heading home. Maybe we are traveling to holiday gatherings with family and friends, or we are going "home" in our Advent journey to a deeper relationship with God, or we are going home to simply enjoy a couple of days off.
My next home will have a fireplace...


I've been to the Des Moines Airport today, giving a ride to three college students, each of them on their way home. It was interesting to hear that the two first-year students each said that Grinnell already felt like home, even though Iowa is a far cry from each of their homes in Los Angeles or Tanzania.

The older I get, the more I believe that for me, home is a feeling as much if not more, than a physical place. My friend, the nomad isn't going home this year to her "home" but going to Ireland to meet up with family. Another way of being "home."

People at the airport coming and going. Travelers on the interstate with cars packed to the gills with packages, parcels, and people.

And I, too, was on my back home. As I drove, I found myself singing an old Billy Joel tune that only those of us who listened to albums rather than singles would know... "Wherever we're together, that's my home." Home is a feeling for me when I am with those I love.

I wish for each of you the feeling of home in whatever that means for you...comfort, peace, security, love...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

And the children told the story...

The annual Christmas pageant. The traditional carols. The littlest ones dressed as cows or sheep. Honestly, adorable to tears.

It's an old story. Nothing new to tell. But that's the appeal of the whole thing, isn't it?

Maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed there were more people there than usual. Maybe  tonight we needed to be with our children and to take the time to be children ourselves.


Telling children they are treasured is one thing, but actions speak much louder than words, don't they?

It's been a tough week.  A student at the college died and that affects us all in this little town. A life cut short too soon. And this was before Friday's senseless event.

From our littlest three-month-old member to the eldest members of our congregation, we gathered to watch the familiar story told and acted out by our children and adults. To sing the songs, to allow our smiles to bring tears as the children sang "The Friendly Beasts," and to pray together as a community. And our children comforted us.

"Joy and sorrow are inseparable...together they come and when one sits alone with you, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed." ~ Kahlil Gilbran


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Singing with the lady in the back of the room...

She sat there in the back of the room as we ran through the Christmas songs. I know a lot of people at the Mayflower, one of our town's retirement communities, but she was not a familiar face to me. She was one of the first to arrive from her room for the program. She chose a seat in the back row on the aisle.

As others came in, the room began to fill. More chairs were brought out and set up so that everyone could enjoy the program. From "Jingle Bells" with real jingle bells, "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" and "Up on the Housetop" songs of childhood Christmas came right back. When Mrs. Claus read "The Night Before Christmas," I could imagine the years falling away and each of them sitting in their chairs as children, wearing grownups clothes.

Moving out of childhood and into their young adult years, we sing "Winter Wonderland" and "Silver Bells." I can still see my lady in the back who's with me note for note. These songs are not necessarily the favorites of children. They mention city streets, romance, walks in the snow with sweethearts facing unafraid the plans they've made... From where I stand singing with them and for them, I see those I know who have lost a spouse. In the space of the music, it doesn't matter if it's been 20 years or two weeks. Those feelings are still present.

I know that my favorite secular Christmas song catches my voice every time. It is so sentimental. Front and center before the room, direct eye contact could be my undoing. But I know we will all be somewhere other than this room when we sing "White Christmas." This room of people from so many different worlds of my life are very special to me. As we begin to sing, I do look around and notice I'm not the only one with a catch in my voice or an extra tear.

My lady in the back of the room with eyes closed, was a young girl in 1942 when Bing Crosby first sang "White Christmas." The woman next to her wearing a headset so that she can hear, has her hand over her mouth and is gently rocking. Music touches us. It transports us. The energy created in that room was extraordinary and ordinary all at the same time. It wasn't anything fancy. It wasn't a difficult piece. We all knew the words.... by heart.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Getting In Touch with Grace

In the building where I work, there is a fitness center. Treadmills, cardio equipment, weight machines... you know.

I have no reason, no excuse not to workout here. I know all the benefits and have certainly experienced them. But I simply do not care one jot to actually take advantage of this more-than-convenient place to exercise. Like so many other things, once I'm there, I have a good time. I'm glad I went. I like the people. The staff are great. But, what a CHORE to get myself to go. I avoid it like the plague. Seriously.

I've been doing a lot of mental mining with my dear shrink lately. It's been a pretty extraordinary fall, a whole year, frankly. I've learned a great deal about myself. Kinda like meeting myself for the first time, really. 

Some people say that they "feel good in their own skin." All of a sudden,
I've realized that I really don't. Hmm... guess that means one thing.

It's time to get in touch with Grace.

In the same way that Dear Shrink is helping me mentally and spiritually, Grace is going to add the physical part, to help me continue discovering my true self.

Grace is the name of my personal coach. Isn't that perfect?



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Blessings

My Prayer For You - from Sabbath Moment, written by Terry Hershey

Blessings of thanksgiving to you and yours from me and mine. 
When you're lonely I pray for you to feel love.
When you're down I pray for you to feel joy.
When you're troubled I pray for you to feel peace.
When things are complicated I pray for you to see simple beauty in all things.
When things are chaotic I pray for you to find inner silence.
When things look empty I pray for you to know hope.
Amen

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pssst...The Whisper Campaign

Ten days ago, my kids and I went to President Obama's last campaign rally ever in Des Moines, Iowa. "You caught history," is one way a friend described it. 

A couple of days later, I received a phone call from our town's newspaper editor. Because of my job, that is not an uncommon occurrence. Peggy's number is posted directly above my work phone. 

"So... I've heard that you were in Des Moines on Monday for the President's rally?"

"Yes, my kids and I went. It was pretty amazing."

"I have a great photo of the President addressing the crowd and I'm going to mention some of us who were there. May I include your name and your kids?"

Well...uhm...I DID post it on Facebook pretty loudly and wrote about it here, so...

"Of course."

The paper comes out on Thursday night and sure enough, there was a very great photo taken by one of Grinnell's foremost photographers, Henry Wilhelm. One can easily say that Henry is one of the more important people in photography, period. Google him and you will find out why.

Our names were mentioned in the cutline with other Grinnellians who had also attended.

And then it happened. I went to the women's room at work and a co-worker says to me, "So, you are an Obama supporter?.... Me too. I just don't ever talk about it at work unless I KNOW that the other person is a democrat, too."

We had a lengthy discussion, mostly she talked and I listened, about being careful to keep one's political views to themselves at work. I spent four years studying political science and psychology at university and was kinda eating this up. It now feels like we have this little secret society going.

Then, on Monday, a senior officer at work stops me in the kitchen. "So, you are an Obama supporter?" 

I'd always known that she was most certainly NOT an Obama supporter and thought to choose my words carefully.

"I saw in the paper that you went to the rally in Des Moines."

Uhm...think, think... and before I could say a word, she said, "I am a huge supporter of the President."

No. Way. 

Well, THAT lightened up the mood.... It was also a quiet, whispered kind of conversation that was very similar to the one just days before. And it struck me that we each felt like we were sharing some kind of secret about ourselves that others may look on with disapproval if we actually said it out loud. I thought to myself, this IS Grinnell, right? I'm not back home where the race used to be decided by the GOP primary and the county democrats could meet comfortably in someone's living room... Things have changed there, but it is still a republican stronghold. And I get it.  I worked for three republican elected officials from a US Member of the House, to a US Senator, and a republican mayoral candidate in Omaha. I get it.

Interesting, too, that we were cautious in our comments immediately following one of the most loud, polarizing, and longest elections that I can remember. 

Isn't it interesting the things that cause us to pause?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Let's Stay Together...

There are those moments in life when if we are lucky, we recognize that it is time to quiet the brain, open the heart, and just be. Take in the moment and actually be present.

Being fully present doesn't come easily to me. My brain is always working, always on the next thing or the last thing ... but rarely in the here and now.

Being fully present requires a little vulnerability to actually experience and feel what is going on. At times it can be overwhelming. It can happen just as easily in everyday moments as well as obviously life-changing moments.

Last night, my kids and I went to Des Moines, Iowa with about 20,000 other Iowans, crammed into a five-block area of Locust Avenue, just west of the Iowa Capitol. It looked even more impressive than usual with extra floodlights making it shine. And the obvious high moments - Bruce Springsteen on his own. The First Lady with her usual grace and sincere gratitude. The President of the United States exceeding expectations and showing emotion for the end of the campaign and for Iowa. And I was there, sharing it all with my kids.It will be one of "those" memories.

My dad tells me the story of getting me up and out of bed days before my fifth birthday to watch the television coverage of the July 1969 moon landing. I did that with my kids last night.

Along with all of the obvious huge moments, I will forever remember what happened before The Boss, the FLOTUS, and the POTUS... During "the wait" was "the taped music."  We'd tapped our toes to stay warm, bouncing to the beat of the music... and then, Al Greene..."Let's Stay Together."  Even if we didn't know the words, we quietly hummed along. The crowd swayed to the music and for me, it was a sense that regardless of what the final turnout is today, or tomorrow, or the day after that... we are all Americans... when times are good or bad, happy or sad.

An extraordinary moment in an evening full of extraordinary moments.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Santos

Last week, a friend shared that the overnight rains had brought the Santos from heaven and she dreamed of loved ones who had passed on. I had never heard of such a thing and was immediately fascinated.

Maybe it is because we've had rain lately and maybe it is the time of year, but memories of a dear friend have been with me these last few days. He will forever be 35. And someday when I'm far older than I am today, the fact that he is 35 when I am 80 will bring a bittersweet smile to my face.

What is it about the spirits that hover close at different times in our lives? Maybe it is when their birthday rolls around or the anniversary of their death. I don't always remember dates but I remember favorite writers, movies...songs... I find that friends I've met since their passing have similar traits and mannerisms, too. I can have a moment where a particular line of conversation can be eerily familiar.

I enjoy spending a little time with the memories and the more I sit with them, the more memories come back. A little melancholy, a lot of smiles. At times, that veil between this world and the next is even more thin than usual. As time goes on, I don't feel the physical presence as much as I used to, but certainly an emotional connection.

This week, I was honored to share memories with other friends whose lives have been changed by the loss of loved ones too young to leave this world. I am in awe of those who find a way to keep living after such tragedy.

My memories are bittersweet, and I am grateful. For those whose memories are still too tender, too painful for words, I can hold you in the light.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest...

Monday, October 8, 2012

headlights and buttermilk biscuits

Saturday night as I was coming home from a friend's house, I realized that one of my car's headlights was out. At least it was just a few blocks away and my daughter and I got home without incident. I emailed a friend who said it was "an easy-ish" fix and that I could do it myself. Even went so far as to send me a YouTube video that showed how to do it exactly for the make and model and year of my car. I watched the video a few times, made a mental note of the tools I'd need, and decided that I could take it on.

At lunch time today, I went into the auto parts store, told the gentleman behind the counter exactly what I needed and he got me all set up. I admitted that I had never done this before and he said, "You know, if you can read and follow directions, you can do most anything."

I cannot tell you how weirdly empowered I felt. I was now actually looking forward to giving it a go.

My co-workers, all women, had a variety of reactions to this job from, "No way" to "Not hard, but not easy, either" to "It's a cinch."

And we did it. I needed John for the strength in his hands. My 48 year-old grip isn't as strong as a 14 year-old young man. We did it together and I was so excited.

I came in the house and whipped up buttermilk biscuits, from scratch, to go with the beef stew I'd made and wasn't I feeling like a domestic goddess?

It is really rather extraordinary what we can do when we have cheerleaders, when we have people in our lives who believe in us.

It's been a year this past week that my divorce has been final and I have spent some time reflecting on the past 12 months. We really never see how far we have come or how high we have climbed until we look back. I am proud of what I have done and feel really uplifted by the amazing network of people who have helped me to get here. I know, I've done the heavy lifting, but I don't think I could have done as much without them to cheer me on, support me, and move me forward. I feel really loved and empowered.

Confidence is a powerful thing and while it must come from within, sometimes we need to be reminded that we are capable and strong. And that we can do things we've never done before if we just believe in ourselves. I wonder what project I should take on next...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thirty

This week, I was asked a question about my emotional support network. How many people did I have in my life with whom I could talk about anything?

The first number that popped in my head was 30. I don't know why.  I tend to go with my gut reaction on many things and gave 30 as the answer.

The best answer most people give is five or six.

Maybe I have a disproportional share of friends who are clergy. Maybe it is because I am 48 and am truly blessed with amazing people in my life and have had many great shared experiences.

So far this year, I have made wonderful new friends, reconnected with childhood friends, college friends, and friends-of-friends... and it continues.

The benefits of a strong social support network are many and creating and maintaining those relationships is important work. For me, it is absolutely essential to my well being. Friends in my everyday life and friends I can pick up with where we left off, even if years have passed, are my treasures.

I want to challenge you to spend a little time every day nurturing those friendships with people in your life who are important to you. In today's world, it's not hard to just reach out with a text, an email, a handwritten note, a phone call, Skype, or *gasp* seeing them in person. Not only will you feel better but your friend will feel better, too.

There's so much in our society these days that perpetuates polarization, fear of the other, us vs. them, distrust... the list goes on and on... it's time to soften to all that hardness and to realize that division isn't the way to a rich and full life. It's being brave enough to open up to friendship, the courage to care for others, and to be strong enough to be willing to be cared for in return. It takes trust that others will value your friendship and who you really are as a person.

Once you allow yourself to be open and truly feel with your heart, a wonderful energy is born that is larger and more powerful than the people who have generated it.

"Here's the deal:  Love (or worth, or value, or esteem, or forgiveness, or reconciliation, or meaning) is not something you produce or achieve or acquire.
It is not something that you even have.
Love is something that has you."  ~ Terry Hershey



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ain't that America?

And in the midst of everyday life, America stops and has a parade to celebrate fall, kids, and school. Grinnell Homecoming 2012. I'm told that the homecoming parade isn't a tradition everywhere. For me in small-town Iowa, it's all I've ever known. We've lived here now in Grinnell for seven years this week and this is just one of the many reasons why.

It's a rule. No parades in Iowa without tractors.
This is how we roll...
All-American boy.
And an all-American old boy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Other Obesity Epidemic

I doubt there is anyone left in this country who hasn't heard about the severe health crisis of obesity. From the White House to my house and everywhere in between, we know about the dangers of carrying more weight on our bodies than our bodies are designed for.

Message received.

But there's another epidemic that we don't talk about and that's the weight we are figuratively carrying around with us. The weight of the world on our shoulders.

Did you know that stress is now considered to be as great a health risk factor as obesity and smoking?

There's no shortage of stress these days in the "Excited States of America," with credit to my favorite Canadian.

It is extraordinary the level of stress that we live through in our daily lives. For many of us, the stress is literally knocking at the door and we wonder how to make a house or car payment. I've been there and it is hell.

But for even more of us, our level of stress has crept up on us gradually and has reset our baseline that we don't know what it feels like to live without stress. It's our normal.

They say that if you are going to boil a lobster or crab, you should put it a cool pot of water and let the water heat up to a boil gradually. The crab or lobster doesn't realize that it is in danger because it has gotten used to the water and doesn't perceive the danger it is in. Trying to throw a lobster into a pot of rapidly boiling water is hard to do. It knows before it hits the water that it is in danger and puts up a helluva fight to get out of the pot. Chefs will tell you that if you do cook the lobster or crab this way, it will negatively affect the taste and texture of the meat. It makes what should be very tender into something that is more tough and rubbery.
We can still worry when we are relaxed...
Note to self: Focus on your heart.

I share that illustration because we are like that lobster... we don't always realize that the pot is getting hotter and that we are in danger. We just see it as normal. But, that increasing stress and pressure is taking its toll on us, too. Heart attacks, depression, addiction...

I struggle with feeding my stress with food and I wonder if the bigger epidemic is the condition of the weight of stress and worry on our hearts and minds. Would we do better physically if we weren't trying to solve our stress and emotional problems through self-medication? Would our brains begin to tell us to get up and go for a walk or a run or any kind of physical exercise as a way of dealing with stress rather than comfort food? There's research going on that asks these same questions. If we could get the health benefits of exercise in a pill, we'd all take it religiously. So, why don't we just exercise instead? Damn good question...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Not for the faint of heart

So many of us, myself included, have found ways in which we shunt our feelings so that we don't feel pain or hurt. It isn't just those who misuse drugs or alcohol to avoid their feelings. Anything can be misused to protect our hearts.... food, sex, exercise, hoarding, spending... anything that (temporarily) takes away the pain. 

Our feelings have a tremendous effect on our physiology. If our emotions are negative, we are flooding our bodies with cortisol - the stress hormone - causing all kinds of havoc in our bodies. Stress is now considered a risk factor to our health on par with obesity and smoking. We don't have to feel extreme rage or be furious in order for the cortisol release, we can feel worry, sadness, or concern.

Four years ago, I went back to a counselor to coach me through some serious work. Each session began with my counselor asking, "How are you feeling today?" I had no idea. I felt flat. I make my living as a writer. I work with words all day long. I had to look up various emotions in a thesaurus to access the words. I wasn't enraged or furious or even terrified. I wasn't feeling much on either side of flat. I was more like one of the Stepford wives. A self-induced coma, is how I refer to it. It was extremely effective in dulling any pain. I was, as they say, "comfortably numb."

When I realized that I was also sacrificing the feelings of joy, love, peace, calm, elation, bliss... I realized that my elaborate coping mechanism was keeping me  from all that life offers. I was missing was the wonderful.

Since then, I have taken the very bold step to allow myself to come out of my protective shell, to feel all of it and not shut down. And it is not for the faint of heart. We have plenty of good reasons why we choose not to feel the pain. Feeling the full impact of one's emotions after years of avoiding them altogether takes some fortitude. 

I learned healthier ways to feel them and not be overwhelmed and I have also learned that it is just as possible to be overwhelmed by the high of amazing as it is to be overtaken by deep despair. As I am learning how to do this, I am a little overwhelming myself... I say what's in my heart. I take opportunities to speak my mind and can overstep my bounds. I'm a little snarky at times, which is truly disarming to those still think of me as the Stepford wife. It takes a lot of work to allow my true self to emerge but it is worth all of it.

While they are powerful, feelings and emotions are only feelings and emotions. My challenge is to feel them, honor them, focus on my heart and breathe.... and then let them go.  And on some days, I can do just that. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fall is falling. Finally.

It's time for football games.
Summer started here in March and it is still flirting with 100 degrees on the last day of August, I'm looking forward to the change of season and a change of clothes. It is time for the air conditioner to take a long nap.

Last night, I noticed it was dark and it was 8 o'clock.

There's football on TV again and it is live, not reruns of old games. Who watches those reruns?

And it will be time to find the way out of the corn maze...
Fall is my favorite season, hands down. But fall also has a way of making me feel all sentimental, almost melancholy. Time seems to go a little slower in the fall. We have "evenings" again. Sunday isn't the only dinner that I plan when there are evenings...

And I am ready to savor all of it.






Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bringing the world to Grinnell...

The world got a lot smaller this week as we met an incredible young woman and her mother. My family and I have entered into a friendship with a young woman who will soon begin classes at the college in our town. We are a community host family for this student who is both Irish and American, but has lived in Africa since she was a very little girl. 
The world came together and the distance between Grinnell and Tanzania became shorter.

We went to an event at the college to bring together families and students from all over the world. It was really rather remarkable for us. 

It was more than remarkable, it was downright humbling. 

Students from around the world, some traveling 48 hours to get to Grinnell, introduced themselves, giving their name and their country. 

These extraordinary young people are attending college in another country and often English is their second or third language. And they are majoring in chemistry, philosophy, or economics... 

I had my plate full in college just learning in my own native language, let alone in French, German, Spanish, or Swedish ... all languages I studied, but I can't say I'm fluent. Not by a long shot. 

This new friendship already feels like an old friendship and the distance between Grinnell and Tanzania seems to have gotten a little smaller this week...Oh, the places you'll go...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Don't Worry... It's All Good

Is there anything that puts time in perspective more than watching it pass as children grow? As an adult firmly in middle age, a few years is just that... a few years. 


Until you watch those years pass as a child grows. The difference between a child at age eight and at 11 is remarkable. 

I listened to Kati Marston on "Morning Joe" yesterday and I'm compelled to pick up her new memoir, "Paris: A Love Story." Marston recounts her first marriage to Peter Jennings, the news anchor, which ended in divorce, and her second marriage to Richard Holbrooke, a diplomat working to end the Afghan war. Holbrooke died in 2010. Not only does the personal story of their lives sound interesting, but I am drawn to Kati's perspective, the way in which Kati is emphatic that we live life fully every single day. In an interview with NPR, she shares that the novel is about grabbing onto life after loss... "Because I have a keener sense now more than ever of how elusive life is, and how you can't count on anything, and how important it is to live in the present. And I hope my readers will draw comfort from the fact that there are lives beyond the one that one loses."

When I hear that kind of admonition, I am terrified. What if I run out of time to experience all of it? I can easily become melancholy and the memories of the past and dreams once entertained fall gently around me like snowflakes... 

And then I see the progression of time in these photos and in these faces, and I am reminded that I never envisioned this kind of charmed life that I have. It's all good.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Journey IS the Destination


GIVE UP THE PARANOIA
from the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, via Oceans of Dharma

"The open path is a matter of working purely with what is, of giving up altogether the fear that something may not work, that something may end in failure. One has to give up the paranoia that one might not fit into situations, that one might be rejected. One purely deals with life as it is."

This sounds completely blissful...and terrifying all at the same time. I'm working on finding my balance between working toward goals and aspirations - things I want to accomplish - and just taking life as it comes. I'm at least aware that I need to loosen the white-knuckle grip I have on life at times and I have succeeded once in a while at being able to do just that. Another way of looking at this is really letting go of the fear of not being "enough." Not even trying or venturing out of my comfort zone to attempt something new because I tell myself I cannot possibly succeed.

"Can't do it. No point in trying. I'll just let myself down... again..." The Gospel According to Eeyore...

But doesn't that also save us from the satisfaction of achievement that goes with meeting a challenge?

Watching the Olympics over the past two weeks has been a little contradictory to this, however. Listening to stories of extraordinary young people who have devoted their entire lives to one competition is beyond dedication. Years of training and work toward a single moment is mind-boggling. It would seem to me that not only did they perform super-human feats of athleticism, but also of being too strong to allow anything, especially their own selves, to stand in the way of their goal.

Not all of us are cut out to be Olympic athletes. That's what makes them special. For many of us, just trying to live life without fear of success and fear of failure are enough.

What do we miss when we force life to happen according to our own agenda? We miss dealing with life as it is. We miss seeing possibilities and opportunities. We view our future through a peep-hole, small, distorted, and out of focus. The most glorious opportunities could be visible just beyond your tiny circle of vision. When we are honed in on our own agenda with a tight focus, we can miss the incredible around us that is life.

"This is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great." Willa Cather

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

BREATHE, DAMNIT!

Who knew that there were so many different ways to breathe?
Seriously - there are special breathing techniques for all kinds of things...
for playing a musical instrument,
singing, 
running,
yoga,
giving birth,
stress management,
to get more oxygen,
swimming..
truly, there is a breathing technique for just about everything. 

I have been told to breathe through my diaphragm, my lungs, my mouth, my nose, my heart, and yoga god Rodney Yee told me to breathe through my eyeballs just the other day. 

Frankly, it's not a technique I need, it's a reminder.

Others usually have to tell me that I'm ready for a paper bag. Sometimes it is a subtle comment..."Laura, are you ok?" And other times, it grabs me by the shoulders, strongly shaking me... "BREATHE, DAMNIT."

Life is crazy and if we don't stop and just breathe, damnit, we're going to miss a lot of it. Use the technique you started with when you took your first breath. It will work. If not, Google has about 493,600,000 suggestions...



Saturday, July 7, 2012

Let's just see where this goes...

I admit it. When an opportunity presents itself and it is something I want to do, I go after it. Enthusiastically. Head first. Overboard. In fact, my ability to envision and imagine how it will be when I've achieved the goal focuses my attention and efforts on success. It's that whole self-fulfilling prophecy thing. Full-court press. One-hundred day letter writing campaign...

When my family and I moved to our new hometown almost seven years ago to start a great job at the hospital, there were tons of logistical hurdles to maneuver to get us here. Whenever there was a question, an answer seemed to appear. I just knew that things were going to work out the way I had hoped, and often even better than I imagined.

Of course, things didn't just happen. I worked at it. I shaped outcomes. I did what I had to do to get where I wanted to be. It's still my m.o. about things I really, really to want achieve. There's nothing wrong with going after what you want. We are taught from an early age that working toward goals is the way we succeed in this world. You know.... Go for it! Pull out the stops! Don't hold back! Throw yourself into it! What gets handed to us on a silver platter? Precious little.

Until I realized, embarrassingly, that charging full steam ahead does not work well in relationship - with friends, family, children...

One of the things life is challenging me to do is to simply let some things just unfold on their own. No pushing or scheming. Just let it happen. Be patient...Uhm. Ohh-kay.

As is usually the case, one of my favorite bloggers has some wisdom to share.
Leo Babauta "The Wisdom of Allowing Things to Happen" from his blog, "Zen Habits."

Leo counsels me that when we just let things happen, the end result may be better than we had envisioned. We close off other possibilities and opportunities when we push our own single and laser-focused agenda. This isn't to say that we just let the world roll over us, but to allow things the space to grow. Enjoying this moment right now without designs on tomorrow.

Well, that's a perspective I had never really considered. But I am now. It is easier said than done, to be sure.  It can cause all kinds of anxiety when I feel the universe is in control rather than me, and what I've learned is that one is, of course, never in control of the universe. Things will happen even with the best effort for a positive outcome. So, this girl is learning a new trick. It has been one of the most challenging personality course-corrections I've attempted, and certainly one of the most rewarding.

This is an important life lesson for me to take on and I am filled with gratitude for the chance to learn how to let go of expectations and enjoy life as it comes. Who knows what opportunities I have missed already?

"Your biggest opportunity may be right where you are now."  Napoleon Hill



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Independence - I do declare


Independence 
"freedom from the control, influence, support, aid or the like, of others."


With all due respect to Mr. Webster's dictionary... I'm adding a few personal items to the definition.
freedom from: 
negative self-talk
too much stuff
unrealistic expectations
controlling others or others controlling me


So I'm declaring my own independence. From all of the above....and probably a lot more things that should be added to the list but I'm just not ready to publicly declare here... 


I find myself on my own for a few days right now and I'm deep into The Great Purge dealing with bullet no. 2 - Too Much Stuff. 


Most importantly, I'm reclaiming my house, room by room. Things that used to be his, mine, and ours. Declaring independence from the emotional tax that I have always placed on stuff. And in the process, reclaiming my self.


Armed with a glass of wine, a box of kleenex, packing boxes for keeps and giveaways, and a lot of trash bags, I'm headed to the chill of the basement, enjoying music, sorting through bits and pieces of life, and moving on. As Martha would say, "It's a good thing."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

You need a village


The homestead
"You need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it. A village means that you are not alone, knowing that in the people, the trees, the earth, there is something that belongs to you, waiting for you when you are not there." ~ Casare Pavese

It's not a small thing to have a village. A place from which to go. They say that home is where your story begins and I think that's true. 

This weekend, I attended a party with my village. Generations of family friends all in one place. It was officially a reunion weekend. I attended my 30th high school reunion and my sister had her 25th. But at this party, there were people who graduated with my mother's class as well as grown-up kids I used to babysit and everyone in between. In my village, many of my friends' parents were in school with my parents, and for couple of families, even our grandparents went to school together. 

The Homestead, II
I saw my sister for the first time in two years. We connected with a boy who moved away in 7th grade - our families were very close when they moved away to North Carolina. We haven't seen each other in 35 years. Another dear friend came back home - I haven't seen her in more than 30 years. And of course, I had a heart to heart with the boy in my class who has been my trusted friend since nursery school.

It's hard to explain how overwhelming this is. It really felt like a dream, as if a voice would break through the music on the jukebox at the party and say, "Laura Nelson - This is YOUR Life!"  Or like Dorothy waking up from her dream, and seeing Auntie Em and Toto, and the hired men.... "Oh, and you were there, and so were you! You were all there!"

The old teenagers from the class of '82 can see 50 from where we are. We are parents and grandparents. We are working full time and we are retired. We are successful and we are struggling. We never left our hometown and we live on each coast. What brings us together are shared experiences throughout our childhood in our hometown. And that's what we all have in common, what brings us back together every five years... to check in, to reconnect, to share stories of glory days, and remember those who are no longer with us. We have our village. 









Saturday, June 2, 2012

Finding the hidden within


We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. - e.e. cummings


I read this quote this morning and thought how fortunate I am to be able to actually have a list of names... and memories of people whose names I will never know. People who have who have touched me deeply and revealed qualities and helped push away the barriers and fears for me. It's a special kind of love I have for those friends and strangers. 

However, I don't think this is a one-time job. I think that throughout our lives we find ourselves in need of revelation and wonder about ourselves. And, along the way, there are people who touch that hidden part of us. For me, it sometimes is a total stranger. And, sometimes, it is an act between others that we witness that changes us. 

There is a story about elephants and I'm going to say it is a story because I don't know if it is true. When elephants are babies, they are tied to a small tree to keep them from roaming. As the elephant grows, it can still be tied to a small tree. Even as adults, they can be tied to small trees, even though the elephant would not have to exert much force to pull the tree right out of the ground. The "moral of the story" would be that the elephants learn that when they have that rope or chain around their ankle, they aren't strong enough to do what they could easily do off the leash, as it were... Do you have such preconceived ideas about things what you are and are not able to do? And most importantly, have you ever tried? Fear of failing, fear of succeeding... there's another post for another time...

Just as important as knowing who reveals your true self to you, is the idea that you are capable of revealing the beauty of another. It may seem hard to believe this, but every person has something valuable, worthy, and unique inside of them.  Yes, the stupid people at work, the annoying boy in the third row, even the woman in the line at the grocery store who's making a huge scene....Maybe they just need you to hold up the mirror and show them how remarkable they are. Chances are, there is someone you will cross paths with today who needs you to reveal to them what is deep inside. 



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Winds that bring change

The view from the porch is actually a collage of memory photos that I've collected over the Memorial Day weekend.
1) My daughter wading in Viking Lake State Park, Iowa. (Honestly, what else were those first-generation Swedish-American immigrant guys from Stanton going to call it?)
2) Sitting in the back seat of the car while my son drove and my dad rode as a passenger, "I don't like it over here..." Spoken like a man who loves his automobiles. But in the end, Grandpa was impressed.
3) Winding along Highway 2 through Waubonsie State Park.
4) The sea of green that is the Missouri River valley just south of Thurman, Iowa, along the Loess Hills. Iowa is truly lush and beautiful.
5) The hot wind felt at First Congregational UCC, Red Oak, Iowa... gently stirring my heart to open to the winds of change for my faith.
The Grand Army of the Republic veterans' memorial
Evergreen Cemetery, Red Oak, Iowa
6) The remarkable beauty of more than 1000 American flags flying on a picture-perfect Memorial Day, the tears when I happened across the graves of people I once knew...
7) My son driving me to Nyman for the first of many times.
8) Watching my daughter weave through the gravestones of Swedish immigrants at the Lutheran country church  that is special for my family from my great-grandparents, to my own baptism, to weddings and funerals. A cloud of witnesses...
9) Taking in the beauty of Iowa from the two-lane Highway 92, from Griswold to Knoxville.

Mt Hope Cemetery, Fremont Lutheran Church,
Nyman, Iowa
10) My cherry tree - it must be my year to enjoy the cherries. The birds usually take them all before I have a chance. That's ok. I enjoy their song everyday.


I had a moment of several moments this weekend. On Sunday evening, we were on a drive back from Nebraska City, taking in the corn that has really taken off. A mom moment occurred when we needed to find a potty for the youngest among us and thank you to the good people of Randolph, Iowa for having a portapottie in their lovely little town park. We had to walk to the far end of the park, to the edge of the trees that framed a breathtaking view of new corn and a huge field of hay. The wind was Pentecostal, hot and strong, nearly pushing me backward. It was extraordinary and it made me stop to actually feel it as it surged up the field at Randolph. It hit hard enough to make me stop and notice the life that was happening before my eyes. Life moves as fast as that wind. Pay attention. Another school year has come to a close. Those first and last days seem to come along more quickly every year. Pay attention. Every day is a gift. What will you do with your's today?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Single Mom's Guide for Raising a Young Man

This single mom's new how-to resource
It's a blind spot and a tricky deal for a single mom. 
The necktie. Oh, I can pick them out, buy them, assess the fabric and color to go with the shirt, sure. But actually tying the knot... well... not so much.
There's no shortage of resources online...
Tie-a-Tie
The Art of Manliness
Tie guide
Tie-a-Tie Easily!
Tieapedia
To tie a tie
There are youtube videos. It's in the Cub Scout handbook. 
And it is no joke it is in the Cub Scout handbook, right with all the other diagrams of knots. It all sounds like a Bugs Bunny cartoon to me - the Windsor, the half Windsor, the four-in-hand, the Pratt knot, and the swanky bow tie. 
Ask any man to tie a tie, as my dear boy has often done, and you see that some men can do it swiftly and no questions asked. Others take their time, stick out their tongue a bit. Stand behind him or stand in front of him. Or simply tie it around their own neck, loosen the knot, and then slip the circle over his head lasso-style and cinch up the knot. 
He's then admonished to just keep the tie tied and slide it on and off as needed. Which is what we have done, however... he says that it is important for him to learn how to do it himself. Even though there is no shortage of resources available, because I have half-heartedly tried to tie the half-Windsor myself, it is helpful to have a person of knowledge standing there to show you where you are going wrong. 
A dear friend has reminded me of a magazine I used to love to read when I was a college co-ed because it was about all things men. Esquire has become this single mom's new resource for "how-to." Because learning to tie a good knot in a neck tie is only the beginning... 




Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A little rant for Mother's Day

Last week, some friends of mine and I were having conversation about the Time magazine cover... you know, this one... and one of my friends remarked that the cover and the article once again served to divide women, when we really don't need anymore reasons.

And then Sunday rolled around... speaking of dividing women... 

Don't get me wrong... I love the cards, the breakfast in bed, the picnic orchestrated for Mother's Day, all the lovely handcrafted things my children have made for me over the years that I still have. It's just that I know too many people who spend that beautiful Sunday in May silently grieving.

I think my awareness of this started in high school. My pastor said that it was Mother's Day and all the women in the church were to get a flower and she explained why. From then on, I've been aware that Mother's Day is not the holiday for families that Hallmark wants us to buy into...

For the women in our society who are not mothers, either by choice or by circumstance, are somehow made to feel that they aren't in the club because they haven't had a child. 

For those whose mothers have died and they are remembering and grieving.

For those mothers who have lost a child.

For those who are estranged or have a difficult relationship with their mother. 

For those children who are raised by two dads. 

For dads who are raising their children alone. 

I don't think I am better than another woman simply because I have had a child. I know plenty of women who would be incredible mothers and I know plenty of women who have no business being a mother. 

I'm not suggesting we boycott Mother's Day.  It is a lovely tradition and sentiment. I just want us to be sensitive and mindful of the quiet pain of others.  


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A lovely gift

A close friend of mine is a photographer and she took these photos of me at a particularly difficult time.

I was still married and my subconscious had already decided that my marriage was over. The rest of me had a long way to go to reach that realization. The photo shoot was to help me feel good about the awakening I was going through. And it certainly did. I am totally rocking that dress...

Today, I was chatting via email with my friend who took these photos and the next thing I knew, she sent them to me again. "I just wanted to remind you how far you have come since these photos were taken."

Speechless. I remember feeling really amazed when I saw these photos the first time and feeling really good about them. Today, I feel so much love, empathy, heartache, and more for the woman I was in November 2008. To be honest, I feel that pain acutely looking at these photos.

What a gift from a dear friend, to chronicle this time for me so that someday I would look back, as I did today, with love and gratitude for the journey so far.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Emerge

emerge  verb 

intransitive verb
1. to become manifest, to become known.
2. to rise from or as if from an enveloping fluid
3. to rise from an obscure or inferior position or condition
4. to come into being through evolution

I've noticed the first moths and butterflies of the season lately. In my yard, the ones I have seen are black with an orange smudge on each wing. They are pretty creatures, butterflies and moths. Not being too into bugs, they are one of the few that don't make me go, "eeuw." 

I have learned to appreciate that those "delicate" butterflies are extraordinary survivors. Even though it is their lifecycle, they have had to earn that beauty. Emerging is messy. It takes a lot of energy and perseverance. 

I can relate to that.  Struggling to emerge from your own chrysalis can feel more like fighting against yourself,  your choices, habits, ways of living that may no longer serve you. I think one of the reasons we are all so chronically tired is that we are spending so much energy fighting against ourselves, beating ourselves up for not being the perfect person we think the world wants us to be. 

Emerging and transforming requires letting go. It's letting go of one rung of the ladder so that we can move to the next one. And that's hard to do. 

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." T.S. Eliot


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Leaving the path of Acceptance


     Acceptance is a person's agreement to experience a situation, to follow a process or            condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit.

     Acceptance as a concept appears in Eastern religious concepts such as Buddhist mindfulness, and in human psychology. Religions and psychological treatments often suggest the path of acceptance when a situation is both disliked and unchangeable, or when change may be possible only at great cost or risk.


You know Acceptance. It's the same as "go along to get along", "don't rock the boat", "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Acceptance was my primary setting, my mode of operation. Acceptance became a habit that robbed me of my voice and buried my true self. I accepted everything and everyone, which sounds really virtuous, but many of those situations and people require some deeper examination. For me, Acceptance was really one layer after another of damp, wet blankets that nearly put out my inner fire.

Through a lot of work, and therapy, and writing, and enough tears to float a boat, I parted ways with Acceptance. I woke up from the coma I found myself in - never speaking up, never questioning, never protesting, and realized that I was missing out on life by accepting everything that came by. Do you remember The Stepford Wives? Yeah, I was one of those... always smiling, always politically correct, always diplomatic, and truly false. (I love that, "truly false.")

Leaving the path of Acceptance has been difficult. Probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But I have found my voice again, allowed my inner fire to use those blankets as fuel, and began to question and examine life again.

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." How many of us are living our lives just going through the motions of everyday busyness thinking that we are truly living? We accept that "it's just the way it is", "I'm just lucky to have a job", "I can't leave my marriage, even though we are just roommates with kids." There is a whopping lot of comfort with Acceptance and there are times when Acceptance is very positive as solid reality and a coping mechanism.

But Acceptance can be like a drug. Therapeutic and healing when used with care.  Acceptance can be abused and habit-forming when we keep thwarting our desires as if they are annoyances.

The ride on this big blue marble is a short one. If you could do anything you wanted to in life, anything, what would it be? A novelist? A racecar driver? Run a tennis camp for kids? International business tycoon? Chef-owner of your own restaurant? A photo-journalist? Winemaker? Professional volunteer? President of the PTA or the USA?  Own a bike shop? What are you called to do and is Acceptance of the way you think life has to be right now standing in the way of that?

Life's calling. What are you going to do?




Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sensory Overload

Today's view is one that is lush with spring's sensory overload. Kelly green grass, deeply scented lilacs, and tulips of every shade.  The white crabapple trees in the lawn of the church actually glowed in the moonlight after leaving worship Thursday night. 

For many of us, Easter is a time that brings back memories. This week, I've been helping my son assemble a memory box for the title character in the novel, "Friedrich." It's a story of a Jewish boy in Germany during the time of Hitler. John's assignment is to create a box that may have belonged to Friedrich. It is to include at least a few things - a set of letters from a new character the student creates who is a friend to Friedrich, what might be considered photos of Friedrich, a whistle, and a photo of the new character and Friedrich.

This week, we went through a similar box I created several years ago. It includes old photos of my grandfather during his time at the University of Iowa around 1915.  Letters from home my uncle receieved while he was at UI or in basic naval training. An old savings book from great aunt Ellen. A small framed silhouette of Aunt Beverly. 

This small box doesn't hold much. However, what it does contain are truly links between my children and family members they will never meet except through these items. It has been wonderful to go through the photos and items and have my children listen to their grandmother share her family with them... Florence, Kate, Mabel, Ann, Ellen, Clara, Richard, Beverly, Riley...

Also in this box of mine are photos of my grandmother, Virginia. She loved Easter. I remember the beautiful egg tree she would decorate and the scent of Easter lilies in her home. I have Easter cards she sent to me as a little girl, signed in her lovely script. Between the lily in my own home and the photos, I do feel like I am spending the holiday with her, too.

Easter brings sentimental memories to me of new dresses, white gloves, black patent leather shoes, and of course, a hat. Easter eggs made of sugar with a little peep hole to view a beautiful garden scene within... the list goes on.

This weekend, I'll enjoy those memories of Easters past, of loved ones who live only in spirit, and soak in the rebirth of the land as spring has returned. I wish for you the joy that spring brings.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When you keep doing what you've always done...

From our earliest days we learn that if we cry, our stomachs are filled, our fears are soothed, our bum is  clean and dry. While our needs change as we age, we are conditioned that certain behaviors and actions will provide us with the results we want.

Until it doesn't.

Last week, Seth Godin challenged readers to think consciously about our personal narrative. (You can read it in its entirety here.)

Godin writes: "Did you wake up fresh today, a new start, a blank slate with resources and opportunities.... or is today another day of living out of the narrative you've been engaged in for years? For all of us, it's the latter. We maintain our worldview, our biases, our grudges, and our affections. We nurse our grudges and see the very same person (and situations) in the mirror today that we did yesterday. It's painful to even consider giving up the narrative we use to live our life. We vividly remember the last time we made an investment that didn't match our self story, or the last time we went to the "wrong" restaurant or acted the "wrong" way in a sales call. No, that's too risky, especially now, in this economy. So we play it safe and go back to our story."

Instead of playing it safe, what if we allow ourselves a little bit of risk? A little deviation from the tried and true? What if the "tried and true" is really not getting us what we want?

"If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always gotten." - W.L. Bateman

What if your narrative, your way of making decisions and living your life, opened up ever so slightly? What if you took a risk on something that was good rather than setting it aside because it wasn't quite perfect? We all run wounded in some way with scars and baggage and ick that we carry around with us. Humans are not perfect and we go to great lengths to try to make our lives that way in order to avoid pain and hurt. Not that there's anything wrong with that inherently, but what amazing opportunities are we missing because we are following our plan to avoid taking the risk of living with our whole selves?

The truth is, breakthroughs and new experiences aren't usually found in the safe places of life. Not much new in the ruts of the road. Is that really getting you where you want to be? I'm talking about setting the map aside and maybe taking the next exit off the autobahn. Even if you don't know where you are headed... take a leap of faith.

We all have those wounds that life and love have left behind. They may be very fresh, they may be in the process of healing, and they may be scars, but we all have them. I want to challenge you to think and feel - at what point does your narrative hold you back from opening up and taking the risk of living fully and true to the person you are meant to be?

"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien." ~ Voltaire
(The perfect is the enemy of the good.)

"I'm just gonna let something brand new happen to me." ~ CeeLo Green
(Gen X Barry White)





Friday, March 23, 2012

Homesick for England

So typically English country...

This week has made me homesick for England. It feels like the spring time visits we have made in the past when we have left the brown and gray of Iowa for the intoxicating green humidity of England. The daffs blooming as wildflowers through the woods. With a single rain shower earlier in the week, it seems as though everything was washed with green.
The garden is looking pathetic and wants to be cleaned up. A little at a time and it will get done. This year, more flowers. I envision an explosion of a cottage garden that will supply me with bouquets all summer long and into the fall.

I don't know that I have ever mowed as early as this, but my yard needs to be cut. This Domestic Goddess is expanding her repertoire and has watched a YouTube video on how to sharpen the blade, change the oil, the whole bit. I will not be intimidated....much.
Yes, really.
The beauty of the early spring has thrown allergy fighting into a full-time occupation. In fact, we are starting spring break early with coughs, wheezing, and splitting headaches today. We're popped on antihistimines and laying low. An early spring makes it a long time until the first killing freeze of fall.
This is a familiar spot for the fam! Ipswich quay on the River Orwell


Spring weather like this sparks new ideas and interests. The walk/run thing has started, however... see ref. to allergies above... I am eager to paint and freshen the house. I am making new friends, staying in touch with old friends, and getting to know myself after many years of being disconnected.
The kids are off to spend the week with Grandma and Grandpa and I am thinking of all the alone time I will have. Delicious, yet daunting all at the same time... A break and change of routine is always welcome. I'm thinking cereal for dinner just about every night next week sounds really good. And browsing through photos of spring breaks spent in England will help the homesickness...
What is spring nudging in you? What new growth is pushing its way to the surface in you?